Duong Dung wet market is a well known, local land mark. And again, rather embarrassingly, although not entirely unsurprisingly, it was new to me. We walked down the narrow lanes, crowded with with neat little stalls selling vegetables, fruit and meat. I always love seeing sellers with vegetables- piles of fresh green leaves, herbs, brilliantly red tomatoes and deep purple aubergines… I am reminded of my own home, growing up, and there is a sense to familiarity, which is always welcome when one lives far away. The stalls at Duong Dong were in no particular order, the woman selling meat and expertly slicing paper thin slices with her large angry looking knife, was next door to the lady who was motioning the truck to come and off load fresh spinach onto her mat. We were there at an in between time, our guide informed us, and hence it was quieter than it would be in an hour or so when it would all spring to life and the narrow lanes would be full of hungry buyers.
We wandered through the lanes- the fresh green pumpkin leaves and newly cut morning glory were being prepared at more than one stall. I walked past pig hooves, trays of fresh shrimp, silkworms, more than one pail with eels energetically swimming around and a big bag of subdued bull frogs. There were canisters of fermented rice liquid (used for cooking), dishes full of thinly cut squid and beautiful green broccoli. The local variety of mint is a staple herb and it was glorious to see piles of it, fresh and ready to eat. Our guide informed us that the butchers selling beef, would cut your meat to order, and would even marinate it for you, at no extra charge. I looked over her stall and saw the ingredients for a variety of marinades ready to go- fresh black peppercorns, grated ginger, garlic, chilli, soya sauce. The generosity of it amazed me and yet it is not surprising. These are kind and generous people.
We turned left, past the big garbage bins and stepped into the narrowest of pathways. On my right was a series of shops and immediately to my left, the wall was lined with food stall and after food stall, surrounded by narrow benches on three sides. People, like me, entering the space had barely two feet of space to walk along. No surprise though, that even that narrow path was used for 2 way traffic- a steady stream of people going in both directions. We squeezed our way through and came to a stall right in the center. Our guide is clearly well known and well liked in these parts- many stall owners waved at him as we walked through and warm greetings were exchanged. We sat down, careful not to hit out head on the swinging sign and had two new dishes to sample. One was a cold salad with a version of beef jerky. It had a sour dressing and was generously doused with pea nuts. The other was the most delicious warm pork and noodle salad- again a fabulous dressing with hints of fish sauce and chilli, it was tangy and slightly spicy and topped with a large helping of crushed peanuts. There was a jar of thick chili sauce- red and potent- which was offered for added punch. I graciously declined- my tummy protesting at the very sight of it. Fresh, cold beer appeared and the both dishes were consumed gratefully.
Each stall only sells on kind of dish- that is what the quality is so high. What a great idea- make one thing and make it superbly. I will be going back for more.
At the end of the narrow lane was the lady who sold shrimp fritters. Her’s are the best in the city. Unfortunately for us she was done cooking for the morning and we were welcome to go back after five pm if we wanted to sample some. We walked into the day light and on to a pretty busy street. Had I need walking down that street myself, I would never have known that that tiny entrance held all manner of delectable treasures.
We walked along what was clearly plastic street-shop after shop was filled from floor to ceiling with large cylinders of plastic wrap, bubble wrap, tape in every conceivable size and sheets of hard plastic.
Our next turn left and then right, took us further into the heart of the old quarter and just like that, on our left appeared Cafe Nang, renowned for its egg coffee. As if by magic, we got off the wet and muddy pavement and entered a beautiful serene space, tiled with the traditional coloured tiles and found our tiny table and tiny wooden chairs.
The best was yet to come.