When it comes to traveling, my sightseeing perspective centers on markets instead of monuments and museums. Curiosity and appetite are my guides and I expect to get lost, which invariably, happens more often than I’d like. (I’m still sharpening my map-reading skills). Hanoi, to my foreign eye, is immune to the voracious hands of commercial commerce. No big-name supermarkets here; not even a single Starbucks or McDonald’s. I do see a KFC and a Segafredo coffee shop, one of each, and that’s it.
Dong Xuan Market
This market is a good starting point for a tour of Vietnam’s markets. Hanoi’s largest covered market that covers two city blocks, the supposedly three (although I only count two) floors houses mostly non-food items such as the characteristic conical hats, textiles galore, undergarments in startling shades, dried seafood and sweets, cute clothing for tots, and hats. The stalls are practically splitting at the seams with merchandise. The second floor is a wonderland of material for suits and clothing, everything from the workaday practicals to lush silks. I chuckle at the sight of female vendors asleep on the reams of material while the more gregarious ones gossip while peering through what look like waves of chiffon.
Just like any market in the Philippines and the world, Hanoians don’t just ”˜go’ to their cho (market) of choice, they visit . Selling and buying are personal here and everyone knows everyone else.
Not wanting to miss a single stall, I’m going up and down the aisles; my senses are on full alert and assaulted from every angle. The vendors call out to me in a language I don’t understand, so I smile and move on. When I stop at a stall, the vendor approaches me. When I point at the object of my interest, she reaches for her calculator and punches in a number before showing me the screen. I nod and try my luck at bargaining. But if I’m unsuccessful or just don’t like the item that much, I mumble “cáº£m Æ¡n” (thank you) and amble away. Ah, the Vietnamese language! A hybrid of Thai and Chinese elements with many basic words derived from the monotonic Mon-Khmer languages, it’s a tonal, most difficult language to learn. Speaking Vietnamese is like singing a song ”“ much depends on getting the tone right; get the tone wrong and it could result in any sort of faux pas. My atrocious accent and various pronunciations of “cáº£m Æ¡n” are received with looks of amusement to outright guffaws. I take it all in stride but soon, I’m reverting back to just plain “thank you” because the locals seem to understand me better. Hey, at least I have my go at the lingo.
Pho Gia Ngu food market
note: Click here to see all 24 photos in this set.
As midday nears, I spy metal trays of food being delivered to the various vendors in Dong Xuan Market. They’re plates of food I don’t recognize, but they’re eagerly accepted by their recipients who soon huddle together (again on those little stools) and talk animatedly during the lunch hour. My own hunger pangs are making themselves heard so I set off for some victuals. Here’s what I see along the way:
- ‘hockneyed’ chilies
- Click here to see the above photo in its original format.
Another market I visit is Cho 19-12 . An old-style market, it’s named for a 1946 battle fought between the French and the Vietnamese. When the market was first opened in the 1970s, many thought it was haunted because locals remembered that casualties from the war were buried on the land. Mystery or not? Click the button below to see photos of this market.