Anywhere in Asia, the wet market is
the place to find what remains of traditional ways of shopping for food. Hanoi
is no exception and the wet market was one of the first places I set out to
find. No matter how low the prices are in mega supermarkets in places like Tesco
or Costco, something has been lost in the shopping experience that comes with a
market where the stalls are staffed with local vendors selling fresh produce,
meat, chickens and fish.
The walkways are narrow,
accommodating people on foot as well as those on motorcycles or bicycles. As I
walked through the market, there was a super abundance of fresh seafood on
display. Swimming eels and carp housed in buckets and aquariums were positioned
near the footpath, making it easier for shoppers to have a good luck at their
potential dinner. Here the shoppers and vendors have an ongoing relationship,
they chat about politics, their families, the cost of living, circulating
gossip, opinion and rumor. Shopping, in other words, was more than picking up
dinner; it was a place to share opinions, laughter and information.
There was a constant hum of
conversation, motorcycle engines, and vendors working their knives on the fish.
The strong smell of fish at first overwhelms. It takes a few minutes to adapt to
the sensory overload. At that point, you’ve entered a new world, one that is
actually closer to the ancient than the modern ways, and reminds us of what
we’ve lost in the way we shop for our dinner.