To a tourist like me, Ben Thanh Market is strange with overwhelming smells and well, everything else. That’s my feeling when first walking inside Ho Chi Minh’s Ben Thanh Market. The place is kind of a magnet for foodies like me and my wife and Ben Thanh Market is a perfect place to visit on a sticky summer morning. It’s also a standard bearer for delicious food. Ben Thanh Market stands tall in its central location. A huge roundabout sits in front and offers a golden opportunity to film the hordes of motorbikes veering in and out towards unknown destinations.
Stepping inside Ben Thanh is mandatory for those visiting Saigon. Why else would anybody walk in its direction without having a peek inside? The nearby park full of green space is nice enough but come on! The taxis and motor-bikers offer a final chance to go elsewhere but it’s too early for any of that. Through the doors and into the madness, we go. The morning’s sweet coffee is still working towards my nerves and receptors. Inside, the market offers many things but above all a break from the already scorching heat that is common each day in Vietnam. That humidity will never be missed in my book.
Shop vendors are in full gear, hawking whatever goods can be found within their stall at a “good” price. “Not now,” I’m thinking while avoiding eye contact with them. One left turn later and we arrive at our destination. After some deliberation, a consensus is reached. Menus appear on the table within no time after taking our seats, They must’ve known we’re hungry. A minute or two to peruse and not look like we came here on a preset mission. Okay.
Ben Thanh Market
“Ready to order?” I think the owner of this fine establishment said that. A point and attempt to use correct pronunciation, most likely a failure. Time to wait. Many unknowns in this market and city but one thing assures itself. The food will be good, especially in Ben Thanh Market. The surrounding smells and sights of other customers flocking to this area confirm that. Orders made before our arrival start pouring out.
“This was a good idea.”
The wait was painful but not too long. Our spring rolls come out along with two bowls of soup. Whatever conversation was taking place before fizzles away at the sight of this beautiful spread. Red chili, the greens, and a squeezed lime finish things off before eating. This is essential in Vietnam. The food is already delicious but adding those fresh ingredients completes the journal from kitchen to plate.
A hearty portion of noodles go into the soup spoon via chopsticks, joined by broth, and the first sampling the same as the last. This meal revives any lacking spirits and from then, Ben Thanh seems a blur. No other memories exist and any attempt to recall them has found a strong wall created by that one special moment. Of course other thoughts will come back at the right time but for now, only those moments with that exquisite bowl of Nui Ga can be recalled. That’s just how delicious that meal was and any subsequent meals during that trip paled in comparison.
Vietnamese food as a whole transformed this brief trip into an excellent adventure where all previous gastronomic experiences violently met their maker. Ben Thanh Market set the bar and will always be where a food conversation starts with me. If you’re staying in Saigon, Ben Thanh Market isn’t too hard to find. Just ask someone about the big market where all the good food lives and they’ll direct you this way. Or they’ll point you to another one of the city’s awesome food havens. Either way, you can’t go wrong!
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