Sunday, April 1, 2012

Market Days on the Mekong

What a day!  Basically all we did was drive from Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City to the Mekong Delta and ride in a boat through the wholesale produce market allowing for a couple interrupts to see rice being "popped" and noodles being fried, etc. We visited a lovely old country home for a feast including 'Elephant ear fish' (crispy-fried fish from the tilapia family served in an upright position. The flaky fish meat is gently removed, rolled in rice paper with sprigs of mint and basil and dipped into fish sauce.)

We then continued exploring the tributaries and canals of the delta. The idea was to get to Cantho for the night so we could visit the early morning floating market in nearby Cai Rang. Despite all the sitting (in the car, in the boat, for meals) we were all very tired when we arrived at our lovely riverside hotel.

The next morning we were off at 7am.  The market consists of dozens of boats (maybe even a couple hundred) loaded with fruits, vegetables and fish competing for sales. Sellers advertise their wares by displaying a sample on a pole.  Each boat is small so they specialize in one product each (mangoes, potatoes, fish).  

Floating Market
Later we visited some orchards and saw rice vermicelli being made.  A light paste is made of rice water & tapioca.  This is spooned onto a large flat pan and stirred from inside to out to make a super large thin pancake.  Within a couple minutes the cooked pancake is picked up with a baseball bat shaped framework made of bamboo (how anyone came up with this idea is beyond me, but it works).  The pancakes are left to dry and are later fed through a huge pasta maker to be cut into vermicelli.

Before heading to the airport re returned to Saigon to visit the Reunification Palace (former residence of the President of South Vietnam until end of April 1975), and some French colonial structures including the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Old Saigon Post Office. Our guide had worked with the Americans during the Vietnam War and shared his perspective. It was quite different than the brief version that was in our materials at the hotel (a minor reference about after defeating the French, and later the Americans, Vietnam finally achieved independence.

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