The spice corner of Cao Thi Me
"We have everything from Hue."
As if returning to a familiar place after a period of time in the hustle and bustle of the city, I chose to sit down to enjoy a big bowl of noodle soup with pork, pork skin, crab rolls, soft blood curd and a splash of fish sauce with chili added, which costs only 20,000 dong.
“This noodle soup is not different at all from that in Hue. The price is also cheap because we sell it mainly to textile workers most of whom are from Hue. They come here to work, living everywhere from Ba Diem to Trung Chanh (Hoc Mon),” said Nguyen Mau Khanh from Truoi while helping his wife with chopping scallions.
Many Hue people choose Hoc Mon to live because there are many industrial zones and the cost of living there is cheaper compared with that in other districts of the city. Unable to live in expensive areas, Hue people gradually gather here. They buy land and build houses, forming a large community.
“I used to live in Ba Diem but moved away after that. But now and then I drop by this market to buy things from my hometown. The market is small, but almost everything from Hue can be found here,” said Le Thi Kim Ngan, a native of Vinh Phu, Phu Vang, Hue.
Hue dishes that remind people of their hometown
Tran Thu from Giang Hai, Phu Loc (Hue) often visits the market because “Fish is from Hue; fermented fish is also from Hue; everything is from Hue. Sometimes when I feel missing home, I come here just to listen to Hue accent.”
“This market appeared 14-15 years ago. At first, there were only me and another selling fish on the pavement. After that, there appeared a woman selling vegetables and another selling hu tieu (noodle soup). Over the past 10 years, the market has gradually become crowded. There are now approximately 50 stalls. 95% of the owners are from Hue. At first the market had located about 100m away. It moved here in August or so. This market is very famous. Everyone knows this market,” said Nguyen Thi Diem Chau from Cau Hai, Phu Loc while chopping pork for a customer.
Deep love for their homeland
Just in one morning, I met many Hue people from very far away such as District 7, District 1, District 2, Thu Duc. Perhaps it is the hometown food and the Hue accent that make this small market famous, becoming the place for local people and those from nearby neighborhoods to conduct transaction.
Hue-styled noodle soup
Here you can easily find all kinds of fermented fish and shrimp paste by Co Ri, Ba Due, Lien Hoa, etc. and herbs, figs, pickles, etc.
“People from Hue like food from their hometown. This market makes it easy for them to do so,” said Cao Thi Me from Phu Loc, the owner of a small spice stall.
The sister next door took the chance to advertise her things: “I have crab rolls, banh loc, bang nam, Hue noodles with fermented fish. Come over here. I will sell things to you at cheap price.”
Looking at her place I saw some small plastic baskets, in which were banh Hue wrapped in banana leaves, crab rolls, and a few bags of fish sauce with chili. I feel as if I was in a market in Phu Mau, Phu Thuong (Phu Vang) or Thanh Toan (Huong Thuy.)
"Different types of fish of Tam Giang - Cau Hai Lagoon can be found here,” said Tran Dinh Hue from Hue City with excitement. In a small yard of about 5m2, he placed five or six trays in which are some speciality brackish fish.
“Things here are cheaper than other places because we are selling things to fellow men. Most of the buyers are from Hue. Now and then there are customers from the South. “It is awkward to speak with the South accent,” said he honestly.
The market lasts from 6am to noon. The strange thing is that I feel neither too few, nor too many people in this market. Both the buyer and the seller conduct transaction in a leisurely manner.
No hustle and bustle; women are calm while men are still very Hueish. “Please don’t film or take picture of us. It’s embarrassing for men to sell things in the market.” “Don’t be shy, providing that you can earn money that way,” consoled I.
But I understand that the Hue character is still there in those who have to earn a living far away from home for such a long time. It is the hometown food, the Hue accent and the Hue lifestyle that form a unique Hue market in Saigon.
Story and photos: Dang Tuan Anh