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Chestnuts roasting in a bowl of sand

December 23, 2010

There is no open fire, and I’m pretty sure Jack Frost couldn’t get a Vietnamese visa if he tried, but I had roasted chestnuts today.

The city is in full holiday swing, so I’m curious to know whether this is the street vendors’ attempt at bringing holiday cheer, or if it’s just that chestnuts are in season right now.

Last week, after my Vietnamese lesson, I walked a few blocks to get to a street going in my direction. (Saigon is full of one way streets, and just getting pointed in the right direction can cost you a dollar.) I noticed carts along the sidewalks piled with what looked dark-shelled nuts. The smell, and the memory of roasted chestnuts in Zurich, piqued my interest.



Generally, any kind of interaction I have with shopkeepers and sidewalk vendors becomes a spectacle – all my lame attempts at Vietnamese, my shaved head, my lack of long sleeves, hats, gloves, pants, and socks to protect me from the sun, the phrase book I always bring out, and, when that fails, the iphone and google translate. It’s sometimes better than a Vietnamese soap opera. On this particular day, I wasn’t in the mood to be the entertainment for all the sidewalk cafés, so I snuck up to one, and offered a finger indicating one serving (or so I hoped.) The sign said 9.000 đ, so I gave him my money, took my little bag off chestnuts, and darted away as inconspicuously as possible. They were so tasty, I had to have more.

Today, I was either more brave or just too curious. The sidewalk was also gawker-free, which helped. I inspected the cart – noting the pile of raw nuts, the metal bowl full of something sandy sitting on the round, fire-filled oven, and another bowl lined and covered with newspaper. Then the show began. I wanted to know what the nuts were cooked in. I pointed to the contents of the bowl over the flame and said “là gì?” – which in my mind means “is what/what is?” No results. More pointing. More shoulder shrugging indicating my lack of knowledge. Finally, just before I was about to pick up the ‘sand’ and taste it, I got a word out of him. Then I requested that he write it down for me – handing him my notebook from class, my tiny, turquoise pen, and praying he wasn’t illiterate and humiliated by me.

He wrote muối, which I have since learned is salt. My Vietnamese friend, Ann, has never eaten them, so she couldn’t offer any insight. My best guess is that the nuts are roasted in a mixture of salt and sand or in dark/dirty, coarse salt.




Today I bought 200g since I had harassed the guy so much. As I cracked them open on the taxi ride home, I couldn’t help but think that that little bag of hot, roasted, Christmas-time goodness was the best ninety-two cents I’ve spent in a while.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. The big brother from up north permalink
    December 25, 2010 12:52

    Wonder if it’s possible to post a photo in my contents?
    They make similar chestnuts in China and it looks like they use the same method, here the grit is made of sugar, burnt sugar. Otherwise it wouldn’t get hot enough.

  2. Charity permalink
    December 29, 2010 23:55

    mmmm… those look soo tasty! I’m not sure that I’ve ever had roasted chestnuts…. but I’m make Peanut Brittle in the morning which is my favorite holiday treat!

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