My introduction to Vietnamese grocery markets was not a journey of taste. Instead, the store that was closest to one of my holiday apartments was a local Vietnam Circle K market, sort of like a 7-11 in the United States. Being new to the community, where I was staying for an entire month, I spent much time hunting for new products that I might like to try before I began to understand what the Vietnam markets were really all about and what they had to offer.
Top Things To Buy At A Grocery Store in Vietnam:
Your New Shopping List
And since this close Circle K grocery market was just down the stairs from my high-rise apartment, I had to get to know it really well on the nights (and days) that I didn’t feel like cooking! And believe me, there were many! Had I known then, what I know now, I would have enjoyed many delicious meals made from their fresh and cheap fruits, vegetables, and other ingredients. At first, I had simply overlooked them most of the time and went straight for the frozen food section. Many times I had to throw out some of these frozen foods, as I simply did not like the taste. Other times, some of them were delicious! So I guess it is all a matter of taste!
I found out that not only are Vietnamese’ groceries remarkably affordable, but they also offered me a chance to pick up many things that I simply cannot buy at a regular market or large grocery store in Mexico or the USA.
So my advice to you is not to make the same mistakes that I did! If you have a local grocery market near you, I have put together some of the best ingredients you can buy at your local Vietnamese grocery store… which I now affectingly call Circle K and elsewhere!
Grocery Stores in Vietnam:
I had been hearing of Chon for years – you know, when weasel’s puke up coffee beans, they call it CHON. People scoop it and let it dry. You might as well buy a bag and bring it home for your parent! Don’t tell them what it is until after she has had a nice warm cup of weasel puke. For less than a dollar for a month’s supply, your parents will love it!
#2 Vietnamese foods near me: Pho
Whether you love or hate the famous beef noodle broth, there’s no better place to get pho than in the middle of a busy Vietnamese market. You can head over to Hanoi’s labyrinthine Dong Xuan for some of the best in the country. I’ve seen many people go mad for a dish of pho cuon (beef in long thin strips of rice vermicelli, with aromatic herbs and spicy fish sauce). So I was sure to purchase Pho for Vietnamese foods near me.
Now, I know you have heard of iced coffee, right? You know coffee, with ice. But who would have thought about drinking iced coffee out of a bag? Known as a ”Cafe Da” to the local Vietnamese market, it is a beverage best drank in Bin Thanh, Saigon, or Ho Chu Minh City’s huge indoor market in the center of town. I don’t know about you, but sipping an iced coffee out of a bag always has me buzzing for hours.
From pig’s snouts, tails, and even trotters, Vietnam’s grocery markets are the best places to go for a bit of piggy produce. I know I am a heavy meat-eater from Texas and I personally couldn’t take eating a snout of a pig. But there are many who love pig’s tail. Apparently, the pig trotters go well in soup and broth.
Interested in a 3-week Itinerary of Vietnam?
How about trying Vietnamese desserts?
Ho Chi Minh T-shirt
The image of lovable Uncle Ho, despite the fact that he has been dead for years, is everywhere in Vietnam. Enter into a grocery market and you will notice T-shirts with the good man himself emblazoned across them. Uncle Ho goes really well in pink. Any hipster worth their Smiths vinyl will tell you that.
Surely you know what a conical hat is? Honestly, I have seen them for years and years, but never knew what they were called. Those hats that look like a cone are called conical hats. Owning one and popping down to your local downtown club is always going to raise a few eyebrows. So you might as well buy one from the markets in Vietnam’s old capital of Ho Chi Man City. To me, a dollar well spent! Ha ha!
Everyone has a soft spot for a nice watercolor painting from Vietnam, especially if you have had a chance to visit this area of the world. Picking up a painting of a smoking cigar woman, to me, is well worth it. The artists here (some of the greatest copy masters in the world) do their own thing really well. So whether you buy gifts for your friends or something for your gorgeous mantlepiece back home, I would pick up a few if you get a chance.
Vietnamese paintings are typically a unique product that depicts everyday life in Vietnam in an iconic artistic way. Normally, they are made from a lot of painting materials such as silk, sand, oil.
Hanging these pictures on the walls of your home is a great way to decorate your house to let others know you have been around the world a few times! In Vietnam, it is not difficult to find a store that provides artistic paintings. You can find tons of them at souvenir shops and bookstores. But honestly, I picked up a small painting at my local Circle K! My husband loved it!
You may have heard of Vietnam’s embroidery art. Especially since Vietnam is famous for this type of product. Typically, they make things like embroidered bags, clothes, pajamas, pillowcases, purses, quilts, table runners, scarfs, and sheets. You name it, they can basically make it into embroidery art.
One great place to find handmade embroidery art is in the city of Sapa, that is if you get a chance to visit. They have a large selection of this type of art in their local markets. Ho Chi Man City and Hanoi are also great places to purchase embroidery art because they also have a wide range of embroidery art that is of quality, yet cheaper in pricing. This is a great gift idea for those who are passionate about culture and love embroidery art as hand embroidery is a big part of Vietnamese culture.
Hand Made Wooden Souvenirs
There are two types of popular souvenirs that are sold in Vietnam in the tourist’s areas: bamboo and wooden products. The bamboo products are baskets, bowls, chopsticks, hats, and even furniture. These are all hand made of bamboo. The wooden products are the same, only made from wood.
These two bamboo and wooden souvenirs are not cheap, but worth the money spent when buying them for yourself or others. These are authentic and smart choices for keeping for yourself, I would say.
Ethnic handicrafts are also another type of art gift. These gifts are made by minority groups that are living in Vietnam. Each of these ethnic groups has its own distinct culture, which is depicted in its patterns and clothing styles. The most popular items are paper cut birthday and Christmas cards, paper feathered animals, clothing items, paintings, scarfs, textiles, and even woodworks, all of which are unique and impressive.
This is an ideal gift for those who love exotic cultures. If you have an opportunity to travel to the Highland region, you can observe the making process and then buy these products directly.
Vietnam’s answer to “Budweiser beer” is Snake Wine. Honestly, that is what they call it. There really is not that much to it. It is a “wine” where the snake is infused in grain alcohol. But I do love the novelty of it! The Vietnamese believe that to increase virility by the Ancient Chinese, you must have a bottle of Snake Wine on your bedside table. To me, this is more likely to kill any mood you may have, rather than reinvigorate it.
Buy Vietnamese Calligraphy
Calligraphy is an indispensable part of Vietnamese culture. Calligraphy refers to works on paper or rice paper using scripts in the Chinese-based characters of Vietnam. This artwork is printed and sold on many street corners and market places in Hue and Hanoi. Especially, since these two cities are the most famous places to find Vietnamese Calligraphy.
Calligraphy has been a huge part of Vietnamese culture for a long time. It has actually become a meaningful custom in the daily life of the Vietnamese people. They also use calligraphy on special occasions such as weddings and birthdates to write out the official forms. During the holidays, giving Vietnamese Calligraphy is believed to bring happiness and wealth to families whom they are given to.
Purchase Musical Instruments
Musical instruments are also a wonderful souvenir to bring home from Vietnam. They have everything from bamboo flutes, drums, Vietnamese violin (dan Nhi), and mini t’rungs. They are loved due to their sweet tones. Typically you will find that they are made by hand and t’rungs tend to be the favored and most popular choices. I noticed that these musical instruments were played at a theater I went to in Ho Chi Minh City. As you can see from the photo below, these are bamboo drums that they played.
I picked up a bamboo flute at my local Circle K, so I could give it to my friend who plays the flute.
The Vietnamese sell Chinese lanterns that are basically one type of lantern. They are typically made from silk or brocade. The shapes vary, mostly circles or diamond shapes are the most popular. But they also make hot air balloon shaped ones.
And if you get a chance to visit Hoian, then their lanterns are extra special for their design, durability, and the colors that they come in. Many of them have patterns, and since Hoian used to be a trading port, you will see a Hoian lantern hanging on almost every house in the city. They are known to bring luck, health, and happiness. So I hope you make it to Hoian to buy a Hoian lantern. This is a great way to understand the beauty of this lovely town. But if you don’t, remember, you can always find one at my local Circle K!
I have decided that fish sauce plays a crucial role in the flavoring of food in Southeast Asia. No matter where I went, I could always taste it or smell it. Basically, fish sauce is a condiment staple for the Vietnamese. It is fermented from salted fish. The sauce is made from two ingredients only: fish (usually anchovies) and salt, which have been fermented together for months in hug vats. The ratio is 3 parts fish to 1 part salt. The fish are weighted down to prevent them from floating to the top. A famous place where you can get high-quality fish sauce in Phu Quoc. But I do have to tell you that they had the best brand of fish sauce at my local Circle K store as well.
About Dr. Cacinda Maloney
A value-luxury adventure traveler at heart, Dr. Cacinda Maloney shares her experiences as someone who has traveled every six weeks of her life for the last 20 plus years. Being a travel writer, blogger and social media influencer, she now travels more than that! She is Phoenix, Arizona based, but maintains an apartment in Santiago, Chile. She is a member of the Professional Travel Bloggers Association (PTBA), Media Kitty and the International Food, Wine and Travelers Association (IFWTWA). Read more...