Home > Food, Vietnam > Shell out at Ben Thanh Market in Saigon!

Shell out at Ben Thanh Market in Saigon!

Fish stall at the market

Situated in between the centre of Ho Chi Minh city called District 1 and the backpacker’s area called Den Tham is a famous indoor market called Ben Thanh Market. The place sells absolutely everything under the sun! Clothes, costume jewellery, make up, shoes, handbags, nick-nacks like fans, umbrellas etc. When you are past this lot you come to the centre area of this huge covered market where there are two dozen food stalls all competing for the punters walking past smelling and salivating at every type of food. Beyond the food stalls and towards the back of the market are

the fresh fish, meat and vegetable stalls. In theory, you can turn up at the front of the market naked, dress and adorn yourself, fill your belly, do the weekly grocery shopping and exit through the back door after a couple of hours!

These days, the market is too focussed on tourists so going through the clothes and nicknack stalls is like being searched by Homeland Security at a US border. The stalls are in narrow lanes with their vendors stood outside and they all touch you and call out at you. We soon found a wider central aisle which leads into the centre and hence the most interesting part of the market – the food stalls!

Luckily we found what turned out to be our favourite stall the first day. Well, it wasn’t difficult – it was the only one surrounded by shellfish! So we took a pew – a small at the tiled counter and ordered. The first day Craig didn’t feel too well so it was just me eating and as it was 10.30am, it had to be something breakfasty. So I ordered a plate of clams – like every else in Vietnam these were succulent and juicy.

The grill (similar to an angeethi)

Having finished the plate, I couldn’t help myself and ordered a small portion (I got 20!) of the medium sized snails cooked in pork fat. These were something else, not like the French have them where they cook for longer. These beauties

The mixed shellfish

were flash cooked in spitting hot pork fat. At Cua Dai beach, we were given rough plant stems to tease our cockles out with but at Ben Than Market they had their own tool – similar to the one French use – to weedle out the snail with. As the snails were perfectly cooked (French ones come out quickly from their shells as they are smaller and cooked for longer so disengage with the shell inside), they put up a fight coming out and again it took a few to get the knack of it.

Next day for lunch we went back to the same stall and shared a crab and a plate of clams. Then we stared again at the scores of different types of shells and snails and decided to have the mixed platter with a few of every kind thrown in. Mostly these are grilled right on top of a small earthenware grill (similar to angeethi in India). Another conch shell was cooked with rice flour and coconut which made it look like porridge and I wondered whether Heston Blumenthal got his snail porridge idea from here!

Stall lady tasting the snail sauce

Later still, we decided to walk around the fresh fish market to see where our food was bought. In our flip flops, we were unsuitably attired for a place which is overflowing with fish innards and juices Most of the workers wore wellies. We had to wash our legs up to our knees to get rid of some of the smell and stuff from our legs later!

The stalls are small and all sell one type or another of fish, shellfish, snakes and frogs. We walked through the market wide-eyed watching people sat on a stool, nonchalantly picking out a live frog from a basket and pulling it’s neck apart to kill it before in one swift movement, pulling off it’s entire skin.

At another stall, a woman sat running a blade down the length of a snake, disembowelling the creature. Everywhere there was a din of work going on, people selling, people purchasing, types of food I have never even imagined! But it was all a happy clatter, and we thoroughly enjoyed every visit to Ben Thanh Market!

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  1. May 9, 2011 at 09:23

    Hi Shelley! It sounds like all you’ve done is eat since you got there. I know that’s wrong because I’m sure you’ve done a fair amount of drinking too. Ha ha!!

    • May 9, 2011 at 11:10

      I need food to live, I eat food to enjoy! Keep eating Rich! x

  2. ahmad
    May 21, 2011 at 22:39

    Hi Shelley !
    welcome to angkorian land hope you enjoy and happy to visit Cambodia wish you good luck and have nice trip

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    Chusska, Indian Vegetarian Restaurant.
    CHUSSKA. pure Indian Vegetarian Restaurant in Siem Reap, serve the finest, most authentic Indian vegetarian food in  smart yet comfortable restaurant located in the heart of Town. Vegetables are an integral part of  food and  consume them in a number of ways. Can boast for its innumerable varieties of tasty and nutritious vegetarian dishes add a number of spices to make them really exotic and also prepared using different methods of cooking. Offer a number of tempting Indian vegetarian recipes of mouth-watering dishes. Free Wi-Fi
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    From ancient palaces of Indian Sub-Continent to modern kitchens, hand-blended masalas remain a treasured element of the finest cooking. The rich spices found in these blends are imported from their native countries and mixed with the utmost care by master Chef M. Ahmad and his professional team of the popular Taj Mahal Restaurant, one of the tasty points in Siem Reap. M. Ahmad ‘s inspiration came from researching the favorite dishes of many royal families who ruled India centuries ago. Free Wi-Fi
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