The stalls and baskets of Vietnam’s traditional markets overflow with a colorful spectrum of tempting produce: spiky green durian fruit, porcupine-like pink rambutans, chubby carrots, and spring-green onions that could inflict tickling torture. Ladies clad in nón lá hats share the new day’s gossip while selling mountains of rice paper, slabs of tofu, live chickens, flowers and herbs.
As a merchant walks past us with the traditional Southeast Asian twin baskets – suspended by a shoulder pole – we ask if we can give it a go. As I attempt to yoke myself to the carrier, I’m surprised at how challenging it is keeping the baskets balanced. The vendor protectively tends to the contraption, ensuring that no mangosteens, bananas or clementines rappel out of their woven vessel. After trying to lift the carrier for a few fleeting seconds, I am ever-more amazed that these diminutive ladies are able to gracefully carry such heavy loads of produce, as well as their entire businesses. (One petite and enterprising woman, for example, carried pots and pans, soup ingredients, a cooking element, and utensils.)
Having been in Vietnam for a few weeks, I’ve learned some words that come in handy at the marketplace and restaurants. Sữa, for example, means ‘milk,’ Cám ơn ‘thank you.’ The bargaining and Vietnamese cooking skills need some fine-tuning, though, the latter of which I’ll report on shortly! :)