Vietnam

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Sa Dec is a city in the province of Dong Thap, about 2 and a half hours away from Saigon. It’s my dad’s hometown and I still have quite a few family members left here.

Next to the Cho Sa Dec market, one street over, is the river market. There lies the fresh fish, fruit and vegetables market area where there are dozens of vendors under giant umbrellas by the river “hawking” their goods. It’s a beautiful sight in the morning with all the villagers walking around picking out the freshest fruit and vegetables for the day’s meals. I saw live fish, crabs, snails, and even frogs at these vendors. Snails are sold almost everywhere in Vietnam and I think it may be due to its French colonial past. My auntie would love to go from stall to stall and haggle for the best prices for durian, mangoes, and chuom chuom (rambutan) fruit. This is pretty much the same way of life the people of Vietnam have lived for hundreds of years: buying and selling fresh and local fruit, vegetable, and meats in open air markets. Every day is a farmer’s market in Vietnam.

After travelling to the market, my auntie would wrap some bi cuon, summer rolls made with rice paper, vermicelli noodles, and pork strips that you would eat with a fish sauce dip.





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Haggling for some good prices for durian in the markets

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Durians! the King of Fruit

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Chuom Chuom aka Rambutan

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Rice prices in Vietnam

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Fish Market

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Frogs for sale

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Snails for sale

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Crabs for sale

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Fresh Meat Market
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Bi Cuon

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Bi Cuon
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Bun Tam Bi – Rice vermicelli noodles with Shredded pork and coconut sauce

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Chao long – rice porridge (congee) made with pig blood, intestine, and other offals.

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The river by Sa Dec


next time on Vietnam adventures…SAIGON!

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River in Sa déc, Vietnam – This is the river my father swam in as a child during the hot summer months. My grandfather would always give him a good smacking when he got back from swimming though. Back then, it was a pretty fast moving and dangerous river.

Sa déc is a provincial city in Dong Thap province in southern Vietnam about 2-3 hours away from Saigon (Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh nowadays). My father’s family is from this area, having lived here since his father immigrated from China in the 1920s. They still have a house on the main street in Sa ?éc even though most of our family has moved over to the United States. We still have a few aunts and uncles in the area though, and we stayed with one of my aunts Cuc Cua at her home during our stay. Even though she would home cook meals for us all day ( I literally just ate and slept in Sa Dec), in the morning before everyone in the house awoke, my mom and I would venture out of the house into Sa Dec to explore the markets and get some breakfast and coffee.

At the heart of each town, there is a “Cho” or market. Cho Sa ?éc is a huge building built over 20 years ago housing different clothing, shoes, jewelry and electronics shops. It reminded me of a large flea market similar to Magic Mall found in Orlando. Beside the Cho Sa ?éc is a open air street food market with many different food vendors that sell everything from pho, hu tieu, rice dishes, coffee, rice paste noodles, and even vegetarian dishes. My mom and I would frequent this place often in the mornings, ordering bun thit nuong (rice vermicelli noodles with grilled pork) and banh cuon (rice paste with pork roll) and Vietnamese coffee. There is also a Cho Thuc Pham that is basically a meat market with cuts of meat hanging out at their stalls.

I enjoyed eating at these small food stalls as you can tell everything is home made and fresh. They get their products from the local market and make it fresh each morning.

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Cho Sa Dec – Sa Dec’s market. Every city has one!
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Old woman walking along the street in Sa Dec

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Food market stalls

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Pots and pans from this street food vendor

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Large pots of soup for pho and hu tieu

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Hanging out with mom at the street food market

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Bun Thit Nuong – Rice Vermicelli Noodles with grilled pork, topped with mint, fried shallots, green onions. about 15000VND or 75 cents US

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Caphe sua da – Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk

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Caphe sua da – Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk

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Hu Tieu Chay  – Vegetarian noodle soup made with tofu and bean curd skin

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Banh Cuon with Cha lua – rice paste noodles with pork rolls




Here is a video about Sa Dec from youtube!

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This man sells banh mi (french baguette style bread) early in the mornings in Sa Dec, Vietnam. He sells them for 5000 dong for 3 loaves, or roughly 25 cents for 3 loaves.

A leftover remnant of the French who had once colonized Vietnam over 100 years ago.

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In Vietnam, I spent several days trekking out to the rice field laden countryside to visit the ancestral homes (que huong) of my grandparents: the rural villages of Kinh Nuoc Man and Binh Dai. These villages have pretty much stayed the same for hundreds of years, located in the sleepy, balmy Mekong Delta of Vietnam where people grow coconuts, rice, durians, chom chom, fisheries, shrimp and more. In these villages, I could trace ancestors going back hundreds of years in these towns.

Here are some photos of my trip:

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Rice fields upon rice fields: its hard work out here in the sun
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Ricefields on the road to the country.
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Wood pillars from a restaurant in My Tho, Vietnam
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Ancestral temple in Kinh Nuoc Man, with the founder of the temple tracing back to my family’s matriarch hundreds of years ago…
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A View from Kinh at the river. 

My mother escaped Vietnam on a rickety fishing boat at this very same spot 30 years ago. She was a boat refugee who spent weeks out at sea, months in a refugee camp in Malaysia and the Philipines, and finally sponsored to America. Many others who tried to escape were not as fortunate: strong storms capsizing boats, thai pirate attacks, capture from the communist police, countless millions lost at sea after the fall of Saigon in 1975.

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Sugar cane fields at my granduncle’s in Binh Dai. 

I never met my grandfather on my mom’s side, both grandparents passing away by the time my mom was 12. They say that my granduncle (my grandfather’s brother) resembles them so I have an idea of what he may have looked like.

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Sugarcane fields in Binh Dai, Vietnam

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A Simple meal in the village of Binh Dai at my granduncle’s: fresh farm raised chicken, fish, herbs, crabs and rice 

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Rice fed chicken


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Fish from the rivers

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Congee rice porridge

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Fresh river crabs

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Shrimp farming in Vietnam is much more profitable than rice farming. A lot of the fields are being converted to shrimp farms. 

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The Ice Cream man. Cause it’s hot as hell in the Vietnamese countryside in the summer time. 

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Sweet, cool surrender. 

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No doubt in these past ten years, Vietnam has enjoyed unprecedented levels of prosperity as their government has moved towards a market economy, while maintaining communist party rule. Despite the rampant corruption (bureaucratic red tape or traffic violation citations solved by the slip of a few dollars), there seems to be a great level of stability in the country where people are able to make money and carry out their businesses peaceably. There are still reports of bag snatching and thievery in the streets (someone got mugged outside of my uncle’s house the other day) so travelers should be wary of flashing too much bling around.

I believe if Vietnam keeps at its current pace, it could rise to the standard of living found in places like Hong Kong in the next 20 years or so. Indeed there are many places in Vietnam, particularly in Ho Chi Minh City which appear to have already arrived at this point. (see below)

Despite these advances, there is still much to be done in terms of sanitation (polluted streets and waterways) and poverty levels. Right along side the richest streets in Ho Chi Minh City, beggars and children and elders selling lottery tickets still are prevalent. Indeed, many of the places in the rural countryside scattered with rice field farms still live the same way they did for hundreds of years.

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A beautiful Audi R8 I found on the streets of Downtown Ho Chi Minh City. Ten years ago it was rare to see a Toyota Camry on the street.

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Banh Bot Chien is actually a food with Chinese roots (Chiuchow or Trieu Chau). It literally means fried powder cake, a rice flour cake that is fried with eggs . It’s popular with school children and the stalls serving this fast food concoction are usually found near schools where children walk to and from.

My uncle picked some up for me this morning near a local school. I wanted to try it out since it sounded great but I thought this batch was a bit bland and too greasy for breakfast. I got tired of it after eating about half the box.

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Banh bot chien

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