I am no stranger to Ben Thanh Market. Playing host to countless friends and family who have visited Vietnam since we got here, I’ve visited Ben Thanh Market quite often. I even pop in there during my office lunch breaks to see what’s new and I almost always end up lugging a bag on my way out.
I must admit though that I’m only acquainted with the dry section so I’ve never really set foot in the wet section until I joined the Saigon Cooking Class by Hoa Tuc last Thursday. Ben Thanh Market is two districts away from where I live and buying produce here doesn’t seem like a good idea considering the travel time. However, as Chef Phuong pointed out, this market is the best market in town, in fact in the whole of Vietnam. Ben Thanh Market gets first dibs in the best produce and so restaurants in town order most of their ingredients here.
The wet market is clean and very organized which reminds me of our market back home in Marikina City. As I’ve said in my previous post, there were no flies around. Chef Phuong said that it’s because everything is fresh.
If you enter from the Cua Tay side, you’ll be greeted with a vendor selling tofu! I love tofu and I’ve always wondered how they can be fried yet still be soft and silky on the inside, the professional way. Since we had a chef for a tour guide, why not ask? And so I did. Chef Phuong disclosed that you have to steam the tofu first up to 90% cooked (or was it 80%?), before deep-frying. Gah. I didn’t know that. We usually just go fry it on the pan. So that’s what’s wrong with our cooking at home!
Oooh and see the perfectly cubed tofu on the right? Wondering what’s rubbed on ’em? I thought it was garlic but it’s actually lemongrass. Can you just imagine how yummy those will taste? I was really getting hungry while we did the tour even amidst the raw and live food.
The crabs were all lined up ready to pounce at an unsuspecting customer and the soft shell crabs reminded me of my last meal in Cuc Gach Quan.
I wanted to post photos of the lady cutting the feet of the frogs and frogs in their naked glory but reviewing their pics are really not quite nice. I’m sure Janet will agree. Although I did study frogs in school — even peeled their skin too, I’d rather see them alive or fried on my plate. Aren’t fried frogs delicious?
Chef Phuong really introduced us to the different Asian vegetables and even “tried” teaching us the Vietnamese names. He was such a bottomless well of information — and pointed to us things that we’ve heard of but never actually seen in full color like this green tea leaves.
And when asked what this golden mound is, he confirmed what I’ve suspected, “Butterflies come out of those.” ‘Nough said. I didn’t press him what those are used for lest I realize it was something I’ve already eaten before. 😛 Thank God for ignorance.
and this weird looking fruit that is part of the jackfruit family according to Chef Phuong. If I remember correctly this is used basically as food coloring for sticky rice. Anybody out there, feel free to comment. With so much information that Thursday morning, I felt my head was going to explode.
For tourists and those living in Saigon and haven’t really gone to the wet market in Ben Thanh, the market tour is a must for the Saigon Cooking Class. Going through the maze of vegetables, seafood, and meat with Chef Phuong is surely worth your while.