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Xe Trái Cây: If You Can't Find Lovingly Sliced Fruit at Home, Cart-Bought Is Fine

Nature has numerous ways to make itself known: male peacocks fan out their glorious tail made up of iridescent eye-patterned feathers to attract peafowls; blue-ringed octopuses don’t need to invent any dance, just their menacing aquamarine coat is enough to warn predators about a poisonous death should they dare to take a bite; on the chaotic streets of Saigon, xe trái cây flaunt their colorful mosaics of freshly peeled tropical fruits, as plump and juicy as the divine offerings of Zeus’s banquet, to entice heat-stricken riders to stop by for a refreshing respite.

Xe trái cây offers Vietnam's cheapest and freshest fruits for snacking.

Fruit carts have been in Saigon for as long as tropical fruits have existed and humans have settled in town to relish their juicy goodness, before phở, bánh mì, and supermarkets. I’m convinced that manning a fruit cart must be the most inflation-proof job in the whole of Vietnam.

In times of economic stagnation, we may put away dreams of the latest iPhones, forgo fancy trips to exotic foreign lands, and replace flagship cosmetics with cheaper iterations — but we never stop loving fruits, especially when they come as affordable and abundant as the kinds on offer at Saigon’s fruit carts.

Illustration by Ngan Nguyen and Trinh Anh via Behance.

Watermelon, papaya, pineapple, mango, guava, cóc, rose apple, acerola: these staples make up the bulk of nearly every cart thanks to their incredible shelf life, year-round presence and low price. Most of them are also good green, their sourness is actually a welcome excuse to dip them in as much savory chili salt as possible.

The types of fruits on offer on carts are often on the sour side, making them the perfect fodder for dipping into different varieties of salt.

Fruit carts, however, are not just homes for fruits, for jicama and bite-size segments of fresh sugarcane are also frequent menu items — anything for the juicy crunch. For over thirty years, these carts have raised me, providing an after-school snack when I was a wee kid, and a lunch treat today whenever my teeth ache for something to chew on after meetings. It’s remarkable to grow up with them, witnessing their resolve to stay the same even in the face of relentless development elsewhere, though I’ve noticed that sugarcane and cóc “flowers” have grown increasingly rarer.

Before the advent of plastic cups and bags, fruits were sold on bamboo sticks.

Asian parents are notorious for their struggle to express love using words, but one only needs to look at their actions to feel that tangible tenderness. A plate of neatly peeled and sliced mango is just as effective as a whispered “I love you” at the end of a call. In Saigon, where enunciated “I love you” are scarce and fruit is abundant, if you don’t have access to lovingly home-cut fruits, I think cart-bought should suffice.

Xe trái cây is one of the most inflation-proof enterprises.

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