Binh Dien – Saigon’s Wholesale Seafood Market

As we enter the seafood section of Binh Dien, Saigon’s largest wholesale market, the first sound we hear is the rattling sound of clams being shaken back and forth in metal graders.

It’s an unrelenting noise and combining that with the glare coming from large lights hanging from the ceiling and the strong aromas of the sea, my senses are quickly overwhelmed.

It’s 2 a.m., and despite a shortage of caffeine in my system–suddenly I’m awake and feeling alive!

Binh Dien Market, located on the outskirts of Saigon, has large warehouses selling meat, poultry, fruit and vegetables, flowers, and seafood.

My good friend Trinh and I have come specifically for the seafood, which plays such a large part at the market that the stalls are split over two warehouses, and seafood sales are responsible for 65% of the market’s revenue (about USD1.5m per night).

All activity happens at night. Fresh seafood is delivered to the market during the evening and steadily sold overnight until stocks are gone—generally before first light. On our visit, many stalls had sold out by 4 a.m.

The seafood is sourced from rivers, beaches, and fish farms all over southern Vietnam, as well as from large hauls from the East Sea and the Gulf of Thailand.

We spent two hours walking through the seafood warehouses, engaging with the stallholders (usually with Trinh translating!), watching the very lively auctions, and getting a rare opportunity to see the inner workings of such a market.

The market is generally organised according to the type of seafood—shellfish, crustaceans, cephalopods (octopus/squid), and different types of fish, etc.—and I’ve tried to group the photos along the same lines.

Shellfish

Some of my favourite meals in Vietnam have included clams, snails (Oc), oysters, and many other varieties of shellfish. They are always simply prepared, whether served raw, steamed in aromatic broths, or simply grilled over a charcoal barbecue.

Walking through the shellfish section, it is easy to imagine that only a few short hours ago on beaches throughout southern Vietnam, shellfish collectors were waiting for the tide to go out before scouring the beach for these delicacies.

Binh Dien wholesale seafood market in Saigon

The infamous metal grader. This chap, like others, shakes the clams back and forth with the smaller ones falling through the holes. By the look of the containers, he’ll be busy for a while!

 

Binh Dien

Live large snails (Oc)

 

Binh Dien - live razor clams

Live razor clams tied in bunches

 

Binh Dien market

Double bagging an order of oysters.

Crustaceans

As Binh Dien is a wholesale market, it isn’t really set up for small purchases. We did, however, come across one stall holder who was happy to sell us six crabs for $5. At that price, no bargaining was required!

Binh Dien

Containers full of crab’s legs

 

Binh Dien

Live prawn auctions – a real hive of activity.

 

Binh Dien

There were plenty of octopus for sale – ready for the barbecue!

 

Binh Dien

Live frogs – frog legs are a delicacy here and I enjoyed them in Vietnam with lemongrass and chilli.

Variety of Fish

Taking pride of place on the walls of fish and chip shops all over the world are posters showing different species of fish coming from the seas. Walking through the fish section, and seeing all the different types of fish, I wish I had paid more attention!

Binh Dien

Large vats of bubbling oxygenated water keeping fish alive ready to be transported to other markets

 

Binh Dien

A large variety of fish sorted into containers.

 

Binh Dien

Boxes of fish being loaded into trucks. Next stop, smaller markets dotted around Saigon.

 

binh dien

This was fairly rare. A ‘post processing’ operation in place. Rather than sell the fish whole, these fish are filleted and bagged prior to being sold.

 

binh dien

Live fish are placed into these sealed boxes prior to being delivered to their next destination (usually wet markets).

 

binh dien

Lively small fish

 

binh dien

A nice collection of fish placed into containers and ready for sale

 

Binh Dien

Large Stingray. Unfortunately there is very little of the stingray that is edible, Most of this striking creature will go to waste.

 

binh dien

Yellow Fin Tuna – I was unaware of the size of the tuna industry in Vietnam until visiting Binh Dien market. It is huge!

 

Binh Dien

Trinh wondering if this fish is big enough to feed the family!

 

binh dien

More oxygenated water vats with live fish

The People

I suspect that the sight of a camera-toting tourist walking through the market in the early hours of the morning isn’t a regular one.

Most of the workers were comfortable with me taking photos and a few were quite cheeky and playful, happily posing for photos.

binh dien

This was the largest fish at his stall and he was happy to show it off.

 

Binh Dien

Keeping a close eye on Euro 2016 – the European Football tournament is a largely watched affair in Vietnam. Especially at 3 a.m. in the morning!

 

binh dien

Even in the early hours of the morning friends still try to wind each other up

 

binh dien

He was very proud of his stall

 

binh dien

Time for a game of cards

 

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He insisted on showing me his prawns!

 

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It’s been a long night. Time for a nap. Just off to the side of this photo are his laughing friends who insisted I take his photo!

 

binh dien

4 a.m. snack

 

binh dien

Trolleys of seafood dart around the market at rapid pace. It almost reminded me of the traffic on the street of Saigon – some sort of organised chaos!

 

binh dien

I was happy to meet these stall holders who were so happy to be photographed.

Getting There

Binh Dien Market is located in District 8 (Nguyen Van Linh Street) and a fair way from District 1. You’re own transport is desirable. We were luck enough for Trinh’s brother to take us and pick us up. You will be able to organise a car for 3 hours (pick you up from D1, wait for 2 hours, and take you back) for about $30.

I would love to hear what you thought about this photo essay. Leave a message!

8 Comments

  1. Hey! Great post!
    You’d mentioned that you bought a few stuff with $5, so, I wonder what is the minimum purchase in this whole sale market… I plan to buy some fresh seafood for my family as everyday meal.
    😍

    1. Hi Samantha,
      Thank you!
      As it is a wholesale market, each of the stalls seem to have a minimum purchase by weight – i.e. minimum of 1kg etc. I’m sure you will be able to buy what you are looking for by talking to each of the stall holders. Good luck with visiting the market, it is a very interesting experience.

  2. Roamingfork…thanks for your updates. The wet market is an attractive place for tourists to indulge in comparision…between their country and here. From my prospective…you have given a good account of the market, very informative details and well supported by good photographs…very well taken too. Thanks.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Ho! I agree with you that markets are a great place to visit to see the differences between countries. And, in my opinion, wet markets are certainly the most interesting! Thanks for reading.

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