The Central Market in Hội An is chaotic, hot, crowded, boisterous and, at times, very annoying as young women spruikers hang about, determined to take you to their clothing stalls on the upper levels. Inside the market building, though hot and close, is reasonably well-ordered. Around the perimeter, along the narrow streets between the buildings, women sell fruit and fish laid out along the road as motor bike shoppers weave through pedestrians, determined to buy their goods from the back of their bikes.
Amidst all this pandemonium, enter the renovation team. One man on a motor bike steers an overloaded makeshift trailer through the busy market lane. A woman sits astride a load of wood and tin, shouting loudly to clear the way. Pedestrians, motorbikes and chickens give way. The building load moves through. The market returns to its normal level of chaos.
There are two floating markets near Cần Thơ in Southern Vietnam. The first market, Cai Rang, around 6 km from the town by boat, is the biggest floating market in the Mekong Delta. This is a busy wholesale market, with vegetable and fruit vendors indicating what they’re selling by attaching the item to a long pole above the boat. It’s best to arrive there by 6 am.
To get to the markets, make a booking the day before with a local tour company such as Mekong Official Tours Information Bureau, opposite the Ho Chi Minh statue in town, or organise it with one of the boat ladies at the Ninh Kiều pier in the town of Cần Thơ.
It’s best to take a small sampan, a small four person low-lying boat that can weave in and out of the water traffic at the market and navigate the narrow canals in the countryside. The boats are safe and the women are skilled pilots, though you may wish to check that they supply safety jackets as well. It’s nice to know they’re there, even if it’s too hot to wear them.
You meet up with your guide just after 5 am, as it takes 45 minutes by boat to reach the first market. Take a few morning snacks for the journey or buy fruit and snacks on the river. There are many floating restaurants and small snack vendors en route. Usually the driver will peel and shape a sweet pineapple wedge for you, and the guide will supply you with a bottle of H2o for the trip. Our hotel made us a breakfast pack of filled baguettes and pastries, which I swapped with our guide for something more local and delicious.
We opted for a 7 hour tour on the water. This included Cai Rang and Phong Dien Markets, a trip up some canals to visit a farm, a visit to a rice paper and noodle making business, and a snake farm. The snake farm was the most disturbing feature of the trip. Huge pythons, kept in tiny cages, are force-fed, then tied up and massaged all day by snake farmers who walk up and down on their bodies, making their skin softer and more pliable to remove after they’re killed. The skins are dried and sold for fine leather. Avoid this visit at all cost.
Can Tho is four hours by bus from Ho Chi Minh City. The bus company Phuong Trang has the largest number of services to Can Tho daily. There is a stop for 30 minutes in the large Phuong Trang highway service and restaurant point, which is huge and well supplied with all sorts of snacks and clean amenities. When you arrive in Can Tho, a shuttle bus will bring you to your final destination, if you have the address of your hotel ready. This is included in the price of your ticket. Cost from HCMC ( August 2016) is 100,000VND/$5.90 AU. The seats are comfortable, the bus is air-conditioned, the obligatory DVDs are not too intrusive, and the views of the Delta region and glimpses of Vietnamese country life are absorbing. I recommend the bus over a private car for this trip. The Phuong Trang bus company is in District 6, HCMC, a small taxi ride from the district 1 hotel area.
It’s a frenzied scene down along the shore in front of the Pasar Ikan (fish market) in Jimbaran. The confusion builds as more Jukung arrive at the water’s edge, like a maddening jigsaw puzzle or an animated Where’s Wally. It’s 7 am, the best time for fish markets. The morning glows with colour. The crowds are on a quest to buy the best catch of the day
Outside the market, brick paved walkways are crowded and awash with melting ice and hoses dousing down the day’s slippery catch. The hard bargains take place here as buyers from restaurants all over southern Bali arrive to haggle over the catch of the day. The fish that make it inside the building probably go to late comers or those too timid to strike a deal on the shore.
This sign on a food counter at the Invercargill Farmers Market intrigued me. I had never heard of the word pottle before. Have you? The young woman behind the counter held up a large disposable cup (a kind of show and tell lesson) and explained that these were pottles. She was equally intrigued to find out what I would call them. I had to think- hmm- a cup maybe, or a container or a serve? She declared that pottle was a more apt description and wondered why I had never used this label.
A pottle, according to Colllins Dictionary, ( imagine an annoying Steven Fry voice here) is an archaic measure for liquids equal to half a gallon, or a small conical punnet of strawberries or other fruit or, in New Zealand, a small plastic or cardboard food container.
These pottles were quite grand in size and the contents of said pottles were mighty tempting but at 10 am, it was just too early to indulge in a pottle of a battered mussels with aioli or fried calamari rings, which is a crying shame as this was a missed bargain. ( if only I had a good old hangover, I might have polished off both).
The vegetables on the 46th Latitude grow large and luscious in late Autumn. The Vegetable Man with the big truck explained that the air on his farm was extremely dry- ‘we live close to the largest desert in the world, Antarctica, which sucks all the moisture out of the air. Our vegetables never suffer from any mould or bacteria as a result.’ In May, the late Autumn vegetables are alive and abundant, straight from the source, and I am thankful that I am travelling around New Zealand in a motorhome, enabling me to buy and cook such gorgeous produce. His farm experiences temperatures of up to minus 15c in winter. Crops above the ground simply turn to mush.
If you are travelling down south in Autumn, a timely visit to the Invercargill farmers’ market is a must. It is a small market, but apart from a pottle of calamari, you can purchase some of the following: swedes, Jerusalem artichokes, kale and broccoli, brussel sprouts and cabbage, parsnips, leeks and carrots, freshly dug potatoes, yams and celeriac. Other vendors supply new seasons pears, apples and plums, garlic, cheeses and eggs.
Another Invercargill gem for the self caterer is Kings Seafoods in Ythan Street. The array of fresh and smoked fish is enormously tempting. We bought fresh sole fillets, smoked Hapuka, smoked salmon fins and sadly, not a kilo of the little neck clams ( $11) because they had run out.
The Invercargill Market runs every Sunday from 9.30 am.