Viet Nam News
by Tứ Quý
There is a little-known, traditional Cambodian market which has existed in the middle of HCM City for nearly 50 years, selling traditional foodstuff from the country of pagodas and bringing colour to this city.
If you ask for directions to the market, locals living in ward 1 in District 10, HCM City, they will enthusiastically tell you, “that market is located in a hamlet where Cambodian Vietnamese originally inhabited and traded. There are a lot of interesting things to see in the market, and people are sociable as well.”
Indeed, when we walked into the market, we could feel an atmosphere which was totally distinct from other Vietnamese’s common ones. The foodstuff on offer there had delightful eye-catching colours. The sellers are all Cambodian Vietnamese who have resided in Việt Nam for decades.
According to them, a significant number of Cambodians migrated to Việt Nam in 1970. At the beginning, the group lived in Hóc Môn District, but after relocating frequently, they chose to settle in District 10, and then the market was formed.
In the market, various products originating from Tonle Sap lake area in Cambodia are well-stocked on wood shelves. They vary from different kinds of dried fish, dried frog and vegetables, to traditional foods.
“People can easily recognise the original culture of the neighbouring country by the written signboards and the particular layout of the market. There are a huge number of Cambodian products such as vegetables, dried food or necessities being sold here. Besides, though the sellers speak Vietnamese like natives, they still have the typical Cambodian swarthy skin and pleasant personality,” Hương who lives at Lê Hồng Phong Street, District 10, said.
According to Vietnamese customers, there is not much of a price difference between Vietnamese products and Cambodian ones. The latter costs a bit more due to high transportation charges.
If you are a real foodie, you cannot miss the Num Bo Chóc fish noodle of Tư Xê. “Besides dried fish, my family also brings another hometown food, which is Num Bo Chóc fish noodle, to the city. All of its ingredients are from my homeland,” she said.
According to Xê, the main ingredient of the noodle is the snakehead fish from Tonle Sap Lake, Prahok and whole rhizome. Prahok is a Khmer traditional paste made with salted and fermented mudfish.
Noticing that the customers seemed surprised by neem tree leaves being sold in the market, Ba Sen, the seller, affably recommended, “Cambodian Vietnamese like these a lot. They mostly buy these for a dish made of raw fish. It would be much more delicious if you tear the leaves off, mix it with a bit of shredded dried snakeskin gourami or snakehead fish, add some slices of pork side and cucumber, then eat with chili garlic fish sauce. Moreover, the price is not high at all, only VNĐ5,000 - VNĐ7,000 (20 to 30 US cents) per bundle.”
Besides Xê’s noodle, there is another intriguing dish, which is sweetened porridge, cooked by Nguyễn Thị Có in the market.
Just as Có said, she had sold sweetened porridge with her mother since childhood, and she kept doing this job for 40 years after her mother passed away.
Her porridge is a favourite of many Vietnamese for its extraordinary taste of palm sugar, which is the main ingredient.
“The mixed porridge here is different as it is coloured with natural ingredients. This food makes me feel really fresh after school. It is low-priced as well, varying from VNĐ7,000 to VNĐ 20,000,” Hằng, a frequent visitor to the market, said.
At present, this market is not only the place where Cambodian-Vietnamese stay and trade, but it is also a meeting place for the Cambodian community in HCM City when they miss the atmosphere of their hometown. – VNS