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Just a Love Letter to Saigon's Tropical Fruits

How lovely to have taste buds and to have tasty things to eat.

Among the many tasty treats in Saigon, treats of the fruity variety are varied, ample and readily available. When you get into the gratitude mindset, this abundance of nature's candy is one thing you'll notice to feel grateful for. You can find fruits artistically piled in markets, kept sliced and chilled on beds of ice in glass cases, as well as dried, pickled, juiced and blended.

Beyond the delights that Saigon’s fruits bring to your palate, fruit is also an important aspect of the city’s visual pleasures; the diversity of colors, shapes and textures adding significant liveliness to the surroundings.

The vivid pink of sliced guava, muted orange of papaya, spiked and patterned ridges of pineapple, waxy skin of star fruit, smoothly striped watermelon, hulking coconuts, and small hairy rambutans provide optical pleasures aplenty.

To celebrate the fruitery of Saigon, Saigoneer decided to take a photo journey to some hot-spot fruit destinations, in addition to checking out fruit purveyors around our office in District 1.

Let's begin with chợ cũ. Although there have been plans to demolish the Old Market since 2017, it is still present, with pyramids of oranges, watermelons, dragonfruits, apples, rambutans, custard apples, mangos, and lychees making a strong case for variety being the spice of life.

Presentations of cherry tomatoes, sweet potatoes, mangosteen, and the sweet, sour and fragrant tắc are colorful from their resting places in plastic baskets.

The fruit in Bình Thạnh District's Thị Nghè Market doesn't disappoint either, and fruit vendors make a good showing even before entering the market. Crossing Thị Nghè Bridge onto Phan Văn Hân you'll be greeted by large heaps of a much-loved, and equally derided, fruit whose bad rap can be traced back to colonial douchebaggery, the durian.

A little further up the street, stock up on oranges sold from a wire basket on the back of a motorbike. Slices of orange ornament the operation and give the buyer a glance of the hearty dose of juicy Vitamin-C hidden behind the peel.

Walking inside the market, feel yourself taken over by a wash of yellow and green as you glide past stalls that exclusively sell bananas, large green-peeled grapefruits, avocados, and young papayas and coconuts.

If you take a midday stroll through the market, you're likely to find yourself immersed in the market-wide nap time, as many sellers take a snooze in hammocks hung inside their booths.

The fruit scene around District 1

Checking out the fruit scene around our office, we first headed to get some orange juice.

It has been a few months since Nguyễn Thuý Nhật and her brother started a small stall on the corner of Pasteur and Nguyễn Du streets, in front of a 7-Eleven. Every morning, Nhật’s husband brings in a fresh delivery of fruit from a market in Thủ Đức, which she and her brother then transform into a variety of fruity drinks such as orange juice, kumquat tea, or trà tắc, iced tamarind, as well as having fresh coconuts ready for the drinking.

These beverages are especially appreciated when the scorching Saigon sun is beating down on pedestrians and motorbikers, but the recent rainy season has brought on a bit of a lull to Nhật's business. Luckily, she tells us, coconuts and oranges are good year-round, so she is not usually concerned with whether or not her fruits are in season.

Nhật’s establishment is a nice quaint little spot to rest and share a cold drink with friends, or to order some juices and fruit to go. Although a bit shy, it was lovely to have a chat with Nhật and see her pose proudly with her fruits.  

Right outside the entrance to Hẻm 158 Pasteur, you can find Phạm Ngọc Diễm’s fruit stall, selling fresh goods, as well as boiled green bananas, sourced from the Mekong Delta. She has been in the business of selling plastic packages of sliced fruits for five years. From her experience, while those in the countryside may decide what fruit to get based on the season, in Saigon, fruits are sold and eaten depending on one’s whims, resulting in no particular type being especially favored by vendors at different times of year.

Personally, however, Diễm’s favorite fruit is mango. Her products come from a market near Ông Lãnh Bridge — or as she calls it, Cầu Muối Market — Salt Bridge Market. The name “Salt Bridge" refers to a long-gone site which dates back to the Nguyễn Dynasty, when Nguyễn Thái Học Street was still a canal. During this time, boats transporting salt from Phan Thiết and Bạc Liêu would dock at this bridge, hence its name.

Diễm is friendly with our gang of fruit enthusiasts, giving us business cards and joking that she will charge to have her picture taken.

Next, we headed up Nguyễn Du towards the Saigon Central Post Office.

We discovered a veteran vendor with an impressive 24 years of experience selling Vinh Long-sourced grapefruits. She sets up shop in front of a mural of a large blue elephant, which makes a great backdrop for her business.

Due to concerns about her stall being shut down, she decided to remain anonymous, but still happily answered our inquiries. According to her experience, summer is the best season for grapefruits. A lot of fruits come into season starting around June; for grapefruit particularly, August is the best time.

Although we found that, for the most part, each shopkeepers' favorite fruits were their main products, our anonymous grapefruit aficionado prefers bananas, because other fruits contain a lot of pesticides. Also, having sold grapefruit for so long, she finds herself quite sick of them.

Heading further up Nguyễn Du, with a view of Notre Dame Cathedral, we meet Phạm Thị Luyến. She boasts a wide variety of fruits, including avocados, nectarines and oranges, among others.

Her fruits originated in the Mekong Delta and made their way to a market in Thủ Đức before ending up in her baskets. Luyến told us that she had been selling fruits for three years, and suggested we buy some of her favorite fruits, nectarines and avocados, which we did.

Whether it's from the nearest fruit seller, or from the bevy of fruits sold in markets, make sure not to miss out on the fruityness of Saigon for your daily dose of nutrients, fiber, minerals, or to satisfy your sweet tooth. You could go for a cup of strawberries blended into an icy baby-pink sinh tố dâu, a crunchy munch of green mango dipped in spicy salt, an uncomplicated peeled banana or simply enjoy catching a luxurious whiff of durian on the breeze.

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