No, Not Chrysanthemums!

At the wet market, Bridget stumbles into a comedy of errors

Having been in Vietnam only a matter of weeks and still filled with enthusiasm and girlish bravado, I decided to cook a Vietnamese feast for some friends. Surely such a simple endeavor couldn’t be too difficult. Armed with an illustrated English cook book by a famous chef who had recently traveled this region, I simply needed to translate the ingredients into Vietnamese for a shopping trip at a local market. I soon discovered that even with Google as my guide, I couldn’t find reliable translations for such simple ingredients as lettuce, chicken breasts and spring onions, never mind the more difficult items I would need like palm sugar, pork belly, kohlrabi and kaffir lime leaves.

Not one to be easily beaten, I set about creating a visual shopping list. I found photos of all the ingredients I required and formed a foolproof plan to show them to the lovely ladies of the wet market ensuring the meal would all come together somehow. Vietnamese wet markets are amongst the most colorful and vibrant that you will find anywhere in the world. They are in the quiet streets of city centers and suburban neighborhoods. The stall holders shade their wares from the sun with an array of brightly colored awnings strung across the streets that bathe everything below in an inviting iridescent light. It becomes a kaleidoscope of fruit, flowers, meat and fish. One of my favorites, in District 3, feels like a perpetual street party. The alleys are filled with voices and laughter, bobbing conical hats, goods being fetched and carried and impatient motorcyclists wriggling through the crowds. The whole event is a feast for all the senses which I could happily sit and experience for hours.

My appearance at the local wet market always causes amusement. Apparently, they don’t get many Westerners down that part of town. A ripple of laughter runs through the stalls as my first lady vendor giggles at my complete inability to pronounce the Vietnamese name for tomatoes and lemongrass. I’ve reached my limit. It’s time to bring out the photo shopping list. People appear from cool shadows, tip out of hammocks and gather round to look at this strange document. But I soon discover a problem. The sellers are not very visually oriented so they find it difficult to decipher some of my photos and argue amongst themselves about what they may or may not represent. Nonetheless, the cooking ingredients gradually come together in the fruit and vegetable section and friendly vendors point me in the right direction for chicken and fish.

Amongst the poultry stalls I find a display where all the individual parts of the chicken are laid out in full view from head to intestine, feet to liver, wings and heart too, like some ‘assemble your own chicken’ kit. I soon have some meaty breasts and then pick up gorgeous fresh prawns and lean pork on my way back to my bike. I don’t really want to leave; next time I will bring my sketch pad I think.

Oh! Coriander! I forgot the coriander! I rush around the vegetable stalls but, unbelievably, I cannot see any anywhere. I need to ask for some but I don’t know the name. What’s worse, I don’t have a photo of it on my shopping list. I improvise by whipping out a pencil and drawing a coriander leaf on a scrap of paper but there is a lot of hand waggling going on as the crowd try to tell me they don’t understand my drawing. Then one young man thinks he understands what I want. A message is sent through the ranks of the market to some poor soul who was apparently enjoying his siesta under a table in a storeroom somewhere. Ten minutes later, he appears at my side with a broad grin and an expression of pride and achievement written all over his face. Everyone nods and grins as he presents me with… a bunch of yellow chrysanthemums. No, not chrysanthemums! I can’t help but laugh!

A professional artist working in Vietnam, Bridget March has lectured at Leeds College of Art (UK) and practiced as a freelance product designer. She specializes in urban landscapes and aims to reveal the hidden treasures of city life and the richness of smaller town cultures through her illustrations. Bridget also holds drawing classes for beginners and improvers in Saigon. Find more of her work at BrushWithAsia.blogspot.com

Share this story, choose your platform!

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on tumblr
Share on google
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on vk
Share on email
About the author:

Leave a Comment

Is 3D Pen Good for Children?

Children are curious by nature. Being as well really creative and imaginative, they would like to explore the globe. Build up stuff. Playing with colorful things can open their visions. 3d pen is, as precisely represented, a game-changer. It appears like every day pens with just a couple of changes. How does it benefit the

Read More »

5 Benefits Of Hiring Experts For Car Ceramic Coating

Sydney is one of the most highly populated places in Australia. Around 38 per cent of the people here own a car. If you’re like other people, you take pride in your vehicle. You wash and wax it often and keep it looking as good as possible. But even with all of your efforts, sometimes

Read More »

6 Unique Uses For Your Pillow Cover

How you use your pillow cover can be just as important as the actual pillow itself when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. Whether you’re trying to eliminate bedbugs, adjust the temperature in your room, or just want to spruce up your bedroom, there are plenty of options for making your pillow cover

Read More »

5 Rewarding Careers in Healthcare Where You Can Make a Difference

Eleven out of the top 20 jobs on the Bureau of Labor Statistics list of the fastest growing careers are in the health care industry. Analysts say that there are two reasons for this expansion: one is that the huge baby boom population is aging, and the other is Obama’s health care initiative. There is much more to a

Read More »

What is a magnetic screen door?

Are you tired of slamming screen doors closed at night and having to hold it open during hot summer days? If so, your search for an easy solution has come to an end! A magnetic screen door can be a fun and convenient way to enjoy fresh air without having to leave your doors open,

Read More »