by Richard Henderson
A market filled with the pungent aroma of locally made French cheese, freshly cooked pastries and free wine tasting may appear a thoroughly European experience, but tucked away in a hidden corner of Ha Noi's West Lake area a small yet thriving market offers exactly these delights every Saturday.
Delectable: The market sells organic produce and a selection of quality wine's produced by French winemakers in Viet Nam, and even the delectable Tomme de Savoie cheese, made with local produce. — VNS Photos Thai Ha
|Thrifty: Stalls at the market also sell second-hand clothes and books.
The Tay Ho Weekend Market, which also goes by its colloquial title, the French Market, is a concentrated cluster of stalls run by both Vietnamese and expats, with a strong French influence.
Boasting a wide range of organic vegetables at prices little higher than any market in the capital, a selection of quality wine's produced by French winemakers in Viet Nam, and even the delectable Tomme de Savoie cheese, made with local produce, the market offers a slice of Europe in central Ha Noi.
Located at the end of Alley 12 of To Ngoc Van Street in the West Lake area, the market is open from 9am to 12.30pm every Saturday.
The market began when people involved in food safety decided to kick-start an initiative encouraging high-quality, ethical produce with clearly stated natural origins in Ha Noi's food sector.
The produce is not limited to vegetables, as there are organic-raised chickens for sale, which are guaranteed to have matured without steroids as are many locally sold chickens. The organic variety is not only healthier, but offers better tasting meat.
Apart from the fantastic array of fresh, healthy produce, the market attracts swathes of people for the strong sense of community, which has developed over the market's short history.
Children chase each other around groups of chatting adults, as parents sip coffee and catch up with local friends and groups of middle-aged French men taste wine, talking about the week's news. While the expat presence may be strong, the market attracts just as many Vietnamese visitors, perusing each stall and stocking up on the high-quality produce on offer.
All over the world markets are a centre of socialising, and this may be the market's true strength, in addition to the promotion of fresh and healthy produce, as the varied spread of expat nationalities and local Vietnamese all inter-mingle, creating a positive place for exchange.
Indeed, the market has gained such popularity that motorbike parking has begun to clog the entrance, and spill into surrounding alleys.
The positive change ethos the market has built itself on spreads to stalls not offering any food, but second-hand clothes and books. Hunting through pre-loved clothes, and thumbing through used paperbacks is a quintessential market experience, and the market succeeds in transplanting the pleasure of wondering through a European-style market to Ha Noi.
The produce itself is of exceptional quality, and for Ha Noi residents inundated with horror stories of vegetables grown near piles of rubbish, or imported fruit contaminated with chemical residue, the slightly higher price of the produce here is worth the peace of mind.
Be warned, however, as the increasing popularity of the market has caused the organic stall to sell out of a large amount of their produce as early as 10.30am, so it's best to brave the early morning to secure your fresh herbs and vegetables for the week.
For Francophiles, the pronounced French influences of the market are fantastic, with a diabolical selection of French pastries, both sweet and savoury, including warm croissants and home-made ham and cheese quiche.
The honey sold here has also gained a fierce reputation for excellent quality, and is available to be sampled, and, like many stalls, you can talk directly to the person who made it. — VNS