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Produce alley

November 14, 2010

In spite of the fact that we live in an ivory tower, we are only a few feet from being in the middle of crazy Vietnamese life. Since this is my neighborhood and I’m going to be here for a year, every few days I go wander around to see what’s out there. Some days I go with Kari, my downstairs neighbor and fellow retiree, sometimes with Jonathan, and sometimes I go alone.

So far, the main place we go is a place we’ve named Produce Alley. I don’t think it classifies as a street, though occasionally a tiny truck drives through forcing everyone to tilt their umbrellas and awnings to make way for it. The produce is the obvious draw for us, but from what I can tell, anything needed for every day living in Vietnam can be purchased here.

In this photo, you will see several things about the Vietnamese that amuse/amaze me. The baby is riding in the front. The baby is wearing a hat with mosquito netting attached. The lady is wearing a hat underneath her helmet (to protect her from the sun.) The lady is wearing a long sleeve shirt and pants in ninety degree weather (to protect her from the sun.) The lady is squatting on her heels, with ease, as she selects her vegetable purchase. Those are whole chickens on the table nearby. Today I saw geckos skittering around on them.



There are food vendors, butchers, seafood sellers, vegetables, fruit, eggs, noodles, and rice. You can buy chilis already ground into paste, minced garlic, and sliced shallots. Most of the fresh food is laid out on mats in front of the doorways, but there are dark little shops lined with bottles and cans of sauces and who knows what else. There is a lady who sells glasses, mugs, bowls, and teapots, and other stands with clothes, shoes, and towels.

Every time I go down there I see more and more things. Today I bought a scratch off card to add credit to my phone.

Usually I walk to the end of the street before I buy anything so I can scope everything out. I haven’t found a regular place to buy from yet, and don’t know if the prices vary. Some people have a huge variety of produce, and others only have a few things.




Those are live chickens in the basket on the left. I’m wondering if that is indicative of how fresh the eggs on the right are. “Eggs while you wait.”

I didn’t need much food today since we made a big trip to the Metro the other day, but I bought a small bag of mushrooms since Jonathan likes them. A problem I’ve encountered being a housewife is that I don’t know how much food to buy for two people, and I don’t know how long different vegetables will last. I tend to buy too much so we end up eating zucchini at every meal for three days.

I’m also learning that in a society where things aren’t refrigerated and people shop for their food every day, you have to get up and go shopping early. I’m not good at this, but am attempting to improve. The vegetables still look good in the afternoon, but there isn’t as much to choose from. And, unless a fish is still swimming around in the bowl, I’m not going to buy any seafood in the afternoon. In my opinion, unrefrigerated meat and poultry are out of the question at any time of the day.




Usually, if you show interest in a person’s wares they will hand you the bowl sitting on top of their scale. You fill it with whatever you want and they weigh it. Other times they will give you a tiny plastic bag to put your selection in and weigh that. Sometimes the seller shows fingers to indicate the price, and other times they will grab some bills out of their moneybox or their pocket to show how much it costs. Occasionally they will tell you in English. I really, really need to learn Vietnamese.

Shopping here is not for the faint hearted. People might watch us carefully as we shop, but we are the ones who have to watch out when they come by on their motorbikes. It seems that the pedestrian does not have the right of way; they have the right to get out of the way. It’s common to see geckos climbing among the vegetables and rats snatching scraps from the butchers. Ladies squat with bowls of squirming fish clipping, snipping, beheading, and gutting. One afternoon we walked through and saw four of five adult sellers sleeping on the floor as their fish flipped out of the bowls, onto the sidewalks, and into the gutters. I’m sure when they woke up they just collected them and put them back into the bowls. I’ll never buy fish there.

Welcome to my neighborhood grocery store.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Charity permalink
    November 14, 2010 15:02

    The best part about the first picture is that the child doesn’t have to wear a helmet…. But at least the mosquitos and other bugs that come flying at him as he rides the motorcycle won’t get his face. 🙂 How does the lady with the live chickens get them to stay put in the basket?? So when I come to visit will you cook me a whole chicken? The heat will kill the gecko germs…. 🙂

  2. Ragan permalink
    November 14, 2010 16:16

    Hey it was great meeting you the other night at that restaurant in the attic. Although after Sun told me I was eating pig ears and pig snout (my favorite dish of the evening until then) I lost my appetite for everything. I wish I had made a blog when I first started Expat-ing. Fantastic descriptions. -Ragan

    • November 15, 2010 02:30

      Thanks, Ragan. It was great meeting you as well. Was it the lotus salad that was full of pig parts? Thanks for reading. I bet you have some amazing stories yourself. Come back and see us soon.

  3. Peter permalink
    November 14, 2010 16:50

    I was going to say too… Those are some very well-behaved chickens sitting in that little basket.

  4. November 15, 2010 01:20

    Yowza. Definitely not for the faint of heart 🙂 Joe took one look at the picture and told me that no, we cannot have pet chickens in Vietnam. Spoil sport.

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