Saigon specialty market caters to pest killing festival

By Phong Vinh    June 6, 2019 | 11:22 pm PT
Ba Hoa Market in Saigon’s Tan Binh District is crowded with people preparing to celebrate Tet Doan Ngo.

Tet Doan Ngo, celebrated with variations in several Asian nations including Vietnam, falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. Doan Ngo is the time when the sun is closest to the earth and marks the harvest season. 

At the end of the harvest, insects come to feast on the freshly harvested crops, and farmers work to get rid of them. The festival celebrates both the presence of crops and the absence of the insects.

Vietnamese see Tet Doan Ngo, also known as the pest killing festival or the summer cleansing festival which falls on June 7 this year, as a time for physical and spiritual cleansing.

Saigon specialty market caters to pest killing festival

Located on Tran Mai Ninh Street in Tan Binh District, this market is known for specialties from central Vietnam. Even though the sign on the market gate mentions Ward 11, many Saigon people refer to this place as Ba Hoa Market, after the woman who bought this land to set up a market in the 70s.

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The local vendors in the market mostly come from the central region, especially from Quang Nam Province. The market gets more crowded on the occasion of Tet Doan Ngo, selling items that are made available exclusively for the occasion.

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Banh u la tre, glutinous rice cake wrapped in bamboo leaves, is a traditional cake that many people choose to offer to the ancestors or to gift relatives for Tet Doan Ngo. In the old days, the cake was wrapped in bamboo leaves, but nowadays many vendors use banana leaves as well.

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Thuy, 38 years old, who has been trading in the market for nearly 20 years, said she only began selling the cake this morning. "Every year my family orders these cakes from Quang Nam so that the people here have the opportunity to enjoy the taste of home. The cake is light yellow, sticky, fragrant and sweet."

She said the quantity of cakes sold has increased every year, so she got twice the quantity this year. A bundle (10 pieces) costs VND60,000 ($2.56).

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Tam, who has been selling arecanuts for more than 30 years at Ba Hoa Market, said that the nut, along with betel leaves, are highly sought for all lunar festivals, including the full moon days. "Every year on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, I am out of stock very early, since people need to prepare the offerings," she said.

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Wandering around the 50 years old market, one comes across people making dishes on coal stoves like pancakes, sponge cakes and rice cakes.

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Specialties from the central region, like the dry pancake, sugared pancake and white or black sesame pancake, are available all year round at the market, not just for Tet Doan Ngo. Prices range from VND5,000 - 10,000 ($0.2 - 0.43) per piece.

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Quang Nam noodles are also sold by many vendors in the market. People can create many delicious dishes with this variety of rice noodles.

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Another "specialty" at Ba Hoa Market is the distinctive central accent that is spoken by many vendors. Despite living in the city for a long time, many people have retained their native dialect.

Gai (right) has been selling nearly 10 different tea varieties in the market for 40 years. "Like all other vendors in the market, I look forward to Tet Doan Ngo. Everyone is excited and in a hurry. The atmosphere is very happy, especially on the morning of May 5 (June 7 on the Gregorian calender this year)," she said.

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Quang Nam native Cong Hoan has lived in Tan Binh District, Saigon, for a long time. He said Ward 11 market or Ba Hoa Market is the go-to address to find the flavor of home.

"We visit the market not only on Tet Doan Ngo but on any special occasion of the year. Listening to the hometown accent and enjoying a little taste of home is enough...."

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