For expats, buying cooking ingredients in Saigon can be an intimidating task. This is especially true if they do not know Vietnamese and if the ingredients they require for many of their recipes cannot be found at the local supermarket. To help newer expats or those who have not yet explored the grocery shopping options to find them more easily, we have compiled a brief overview of several different types of options.
Local Markets, aka “Wet Markets”
Lots of expats, especially those new to Saigon, are not comfortable with grocery shopping at the local markets. It’s understandable why. The sellers generally do not speak a word of English, and many of the foods sold or the way familiar foods are stored are totally unfamiliar to Western eyes. But for those that do make the effort to go to one of the markets and dust off their basic Vietnamese language skills, it can offer some truly incredible culinary experiences. The food is mostly very fresh, with much of the produce or meat having come from local farms. Even the non-perishable items tend to be locally produced, as the vendors at local markets generally don’t have the extensive supply network that supermarkets do.
Unfortunately, wet markets do not carry many things. Meats, vegetables, and basic dried goods are easy to find at the market, but for anything imported or most packaged goods you will have to look at a supermarket or one of the other options on this list. If you are shopping for the kind of thing that the wet market would stock, though, it is a good idea to buy it there. It can be fresher, cheaper, and it supports local business. It’s also better for the environment, as it does not use the excessive packaging found at supermarkets.
Just like any other big city, Saigon has a lot of supermarkets. They are a good place to get big loads of shopping done, or to pick up something that up for whatever reason is not stocked at a wet market, like mustard or canned tomatoes. Most of the supermarkets in Saigon also double as department stores, so you can pick up shampoo, clothing, and kitchen wares while you are shopping for food.
Most Saigonese supermarkets are absolutely huge and have pretty much every domestically produced product you can think of. Some of them, like Giant Supermarket in the basement of Crescent Mall or Metro supermarket in District 2, specialize in Western goods, so they have them in addition to all of the Vietnamese products. This extreme variety is the greatest advantage of supermarkets, but it is also one of their greatest disadvantages because it can make things very difficult to find. The staff are rarely helpful, as they are not paid very well and, because of that, are not willing to provide the customer service that Westerners might take for granted.
There are of course multiple places in Saigon where you can go to buy all manner of imported goods, but Ham Nghi street is the most central, and definitely has a larger selection than anywhere else in the city. One of the most popular shops within the expat community for many years is Phuong Ha, found at 58 Hàm Nghi. Even if you want to find niche goods like pickled green beans or Mexican achiote powder, the chances are very good that you will be able to track down your target here or one of the open-air shops lining Ham Nghi. The products are not cheap, as the prices have to account for Vietnam’s steep import taxes, but many of them look so good that it is a challenge to walk through the shops for a while and not spend a pretty penny on ingredients you cannot find anywhere else in Saigon.
Annam Gourmet has locations in Districts 1, 7, and 2, and it is doing something that no one else is yet in Saigon: providing a truly boutique, gourmet shopping experience for customers. It is more expensive compared to a wet market, but you get what you pay for; the employees at the shops are extremely helpful and speak great English, and the selection is amazingly large for a relatively small store. You can find untold amounts of goodies lining the shelves, including everything from canned fois gras from France to chocolate-covered cherries from Belgium to hot sauce from Chile and everything in between. The market even has a deli that serves fresh meats and cheeses, also imported from overseas. The quality of virtually everything in the store is top-notch, and even the decor oozes luxury.
Vietnamese Health Food Stores
Every country in the world has some food producers that take more care in the growing and shipment of their food than most of the country’s farmers do. Those producers have to charge a bit more for their products in order to compensate for the higher quality process, and the foods end up not getting stocked in supermarkets because chain stores do not want to offer pricey goods from smaller suppliers. So, the small, often family-run grower has to establish its own store to sell its products. It’s a story that happens all around the world, including in Vietnam.
Saigon has tons of smaller health stores that people can shop at to be guaranteed a hygienic and organically grown all-Vietnamese product. Going to Annam may be easier for an expat, but local health food stores are not as expensive and offer equally high-quality Goods. They’re also more authentic and may help you discover Vietnamese foods you love without risking stomach flu. A quick search in Google will come up with many options around this amazing city.
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