Monday, May 22, 2006

Breakfast In The Streets Of Saigon

I tend to be an early riser and the rest of my family doesn't. The twelve hour time zone diiference didn't seem to affect that much. Every morning I would wake up about 6 am and take a walk around the city. The morning commute would begin about 7, but before that the breakfast street vendors would set up.

In Saigon, breakfast means small soup stands being set up on the sidewalks. The women in this picture had one of the bigger operations. Breakfast was eaten wherever you wanted or could find a seat, chair or park bench. Pho is the all-purpose meal in Vietnam, serving as a breakfast as well as a lunch or dinner. A propane stove would heat the soup and the herbs that went along it would be set out along the side.

I have no idea if and how the location of the vendors was regulated or decided. There seemed to be a strong element of squatters rights involved, and many of the stand owners probably lived in the building behind their stand. Nevertheless all the food preparation and cooking was done right on the sidewalk. Dirty dishes are placed in a plastic tub of lukewarm soapy water. The overall cleanliness of the set-up discouraged me from ever giving the sidewalks stands a try.

Wherever outdoor dining occured, cheap plastic furniture was never far behind. These brightly colored children-sized stools, tables and chairs would be grouped around for the owners of the satand as well as the patrons. Plastic furniture is very economical and easily replaced if lost or stole. Even large cafes would use plastic lawn chairs for furniture. It tended to give the sidewalks the look of a badly cared for daycare center.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Fruit Gardens And Hammock Stands

One of the interesting niche businesses in Vietnam is the fruit garden. These are family run areas of a few acres covered with, obviously, fruit trees. Scattered around the gardens are seating areas tables and canopies. You sit down and they bring you fresh coconut to drink, and then you order plates of fruit to snack on. This was where I finally had my durian.

To get to a fruit garden, you take a small boat down a canal to the garden. The canals are lined with furit gardens and the boat driver takes you to the one he has a relationship with. This particular fruit garden was not particulary good. Most of the chairs were broken and we had to move around a few times. the fruits were slow in coming out. The insects were also starting to get thick by mid-morning.

Industrialization has been rough on this industry. Pollution and haze have impacted the quality of the fruit trees so close to Saigon. Also there are now many more types of recreation vying for the leisure market.

On the main highway to the Mekong Delta, we saw a lot of roadside stands that were a similar type of enterprise. Our guide called them "hammock cafes" for good reason. Each stand would have a grove of trees or a large thatched pavillion with rows of hammocks strung up. the patrons would come by and have refreshments or a meal served and then take a nap in the hammock.

It sounded like agreat idea, but I'm not sure it's a business ready for the go-go western world.