Big Ben Than Market Saigon

blue shrimp

blue shrimp

It’s a mistake to walk into Ben Than Market through the front. You’d never think there was anything BUT aisles and aisles of t-shirts and counterfeit bags of all big brand names you can imagine. Engulfed in sea of textile and trinket stalls, hands reaching out, grabbing my arms and back to draw me in and the incessant voices of women calling “you want buy t-shirt, Madame”, “look very nice for you”, “Madame, look”, “Madame, what you look for?”.

I’m looking for breakfast, actually.

If you walk in through the backside, then you come straight into the food part of the market. It feels more civilized than the textile part of the market, maybe because the food merchants aren’t seeking westerner clients.

We take a stroll through. Vegetables first. Always fascinating in this country. And intriguing. I don’t know what most of these vegetables and herbs are (aside from simply beautiful). And dodge the iceman, who brings big chunks of ice on his back, dripping, and crushes it before distributing to the other vendors. Impressive, actually, all of the ice, especially with the fishmongers all lined up. Lots of fish. Dead and alive. Of all colors shapes and sizes. Then the there is butcher lane. All of them chopping away. This is the strongest smelling part of the market, especially as the heat rises during the day. We don’t linger here. Then the heaps of dried goods. Spices. Rice. Beans. Bean curd. Dried fish. Nuts and fruit.

crab all lined up

crab, all lined up

coconuts

coconuts (juice and pulp separate)

pretty fish lady

pretty fish lady

hat lady and herbs

hat lady and herbs

ice man with big chunk of ice

ice man with big chunk of ice

pork offal

pork offal

rice selection

rice selection

dried shrimp with more light

dried shrimp (to make pastes and sauces)

And finally in the very center of the market, the food court. Little stalls where they serve prepared food. We check them all out. And here, they are also starting to get used to western visitors, and call out to us for us to choose their stand.

shellfish stand

shellfish stand

couteaux

razor clams

There is only one shellfish stand, and most of the things they have on offer we have never seen before. We stop here. And have a feast.

Razor clams, smaller than any we have ever seen. They just throw them into the fire. The beasts are perfectly cooked and delicious, but the fire makes the shells even more brittle than usual rendering them almost lethal. The clams are served with salt pepper lime sauce and it makes them electric.

shellfish ladies

shellfish ladies

Ben Market roasted bulots

roasted bulots

I’ve never seen bulots as dainty as these. They look like they have fingernail polish on them. As with the razor clams, these go straight into the fire, and it makes them a little dry rubbery. They need the spl sauce to make them palatable.

roasted conches

roasted conches

The conches are amongst the most expensive thing on the menu. Sold by the piece. I’ve seldom had them before, but I suppose because they are so far back into the shell, the direct contact with the fire, cooks them more delicately. They are meaty in texture but very sea-food in bitter brininess.

blood cockles

blood cockles

The Cadillac of all cockles, according to our little shellfish lady, and certainly priced that way (but everything is relative), we finish off with blood cockles. Yep, orangey-red like dried blood on the inside and they taste like they have a lot of iron in them. A very unique and concentrated taste. No need for sauce.

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2 Responses to Big Ben Than Market Saigon

  1. julia says:

    the dried shrimp display is outrageous! i love the images. and i LOVE how *thanks to your blog* i thought to myself, hmm- those razor clams do look delicious / weren’t they seasoned with cinnamon in Morocco? :-)

    • saltpepperlime says:

      Glad you like the pics, I had fun taking shots in the markets! In Morocco the razor clam tasted like they had a dash of cinnamon, but I never could figure out if it was really added in or just my imagination…

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