|Frantic traffic at the intersection of Bui Thi Xuan Street and Cong Quynh Street, Ho Chi Minh City, District 1 (Vietnam, 2008)
|Fruit and veg, Saigon Style, inside the Co-op Mart on Cong Quynh Street (Vietnam, 2008)
In the bottom right corner of this photo you can see some Hồng Dòn, which I believe are a type of Vietnamese persimmon, going for 14,800 Dong (US$0.89) per kilo (if I can read the sign correctly). They don't look nothing like the persimmons I see every late autumn and early winter in Japan, so they must be the bitter persimmons (the ones you're supposed to eat green.) However, hồng supposedly means "red" or "pink" in Vietnamese, so go figure. In any case, Vietnam is a paradise for fruit and veg lovers, and you could make a decent meal, back in your hotel or apartment, out of some of specimens at the market. Many fruits are eaten with a salt and chilli dipping sauce which might seem like a strange accompaniment at first, but is "quite possibly addictive", as Lonely Planet concedes.
|N. ascertains the freshness of this mystery fruit, at the CQ branch of the Co-op Supermarket (Vietnam, 2008)
This is another fruit or vegetable I find difficult to identify. Whatever it is, it is probably grown locally -- 95% of the merchandise on sale at Co-op is locally-made or locally-grown products, according to some report I read online. They are quite unlike the type of fruit and vegetables you would see in the West. No boring apples and oranges here! Well, actually there are apples and oranges, but they're in the minority, and they are probably as exotic to locals as the Hồng Dòn are to us.
|Fuji apples from Japan, wrapped up like gourmet melons in Tokyo, and what seem to be oranges (Vietnam, 2008)
For some reason, milk and dairy products are huge in Vietnam. Probably too huge, in my opinion. You can get free plates and knives and forks attached with cartons of powdered baby milk, which seems a little bit suspicious to me. It seems like aggressive marketing to me, like third world exploitation, the sort that Nestlé might indulge in. Green tea is also rising in popularity in the Land of the South Viets, and you will find gallons of it in the supermarket. Ditto for the local Vietnamese coffee... well, not quite gallons, maybe tons would be a better metric. It's all instant. Back to the tea: I don't know why, but the green tea here seems more yellow than green. For some reason it doesn't work well with me, but then maybe that is my fault. The instant coffee looks like instant coffee anywhere else in the world.
|N. with the Nescafe range, in our comfy Co-op (Vietnam, 2008)
On the topic of green tea, the venerable Thanh Nien Daily reports:
Green tea has been drunk in copious amounts by Vietnamese families at home and in restaurants for centuries.
But a recent boom in bottled green tea, made both locally and abroad, means that the traditional beverage is now competing with big names like Pepsi Cola and even bottled water.
Nga (eds. note: no relation to my girlfriend N. featured in this story), a convenience shop owner in a District 5 alley off An Duong Vuong Street, says she started selling bottled green tea – which is often sweetened with honey or sugar – when she noticed the beverages were selling like hotcakes at other local shops...