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.
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.
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!
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!
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 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.
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