Monday, September 13, 2010

The Morning Market, September 13th, 2010

The Morning Market

If you didn’t know it were there, you could drive by it a thousand times and never guess its existence. And yet it is one of the throbbing hearts of the city, this strange Far Eastern Bazaar.

It has none of the graceful architecture of Near Eastern Souks and no trace of the Western European orderliness you find in the centre of medieval French towns. There is certainly conviviality, though, and middle-aged ladies sitting on canvas sacks behind their merchandise whisking flies away.

The Morning Market is a little bit of Sapa and a touch of Anatevka, lines of vendors protected from the sun and rain by improvised plastic awnings held in place by deteriorating string and gravity.

A lot of the vendors are Vietnamese, although how long they have been in Laos we have yet to ascertain. This area was not always peaceful, and notwithstanding foreign interventions, population transfers have been going on for centuries. A pogrom here, a burnt village there and somehow half the merchants in Vientiane turn out to be Viets.

This makes shopping easier for us since we have a common language. One funny thing about the Vietnamese is that if you speak to them in Vietnamese they will register no surprise or joy or recognition. But if you say just one word of Lao to a Lao, they will be all smiles and inclusion. But more about the differences between Laos and Vietnam in another post.

The market is divided into several sections. In the front are stalls with well organized merchandise: books, fabrics, kitchen-ware, towels, plumbing supplies.

In the back are the fruit and vegetable stands, meats and poultry and fish. If you could only open a fly concession you could make a fortune! A lot of the fish are alive, swimming in tanks. There are eels and frogs and little things that jump and crawl. Other ladies sell fish that’s ready to cook already placed in little bamboo steaming baskets but that does not look fresh at all.

The meats are laid out. Conversations with French ex-pats lead me to understand that the meat here is of good quality, although not aged, and therefore tough. If you want a good tender rib steak, for example, you should buy it at the morning market and age it yourself in your fridge. We tried that once in Hanoi with disastrous results.

This is where I went chicken shopping with Reb Dovid for Rosh Hashanah. You’ve got to make sure the chicken has been emptied and after we cleaned it and cooked it we found that it was tough as nails. The pomegranate we bought was over-ripe and bitter.

There has got to be a better way!

Another part of the morning market is indoor and air-conditioned and someone is building another modern air-conditioned thing right beside it. There you can find cell phones and i-pods and glasses and gadgets, “art work” and lighting fixtures. That’s where we went to get our Canadian cell phones un-blocked and where I bought ear-buds for my i-pod so I can listen to Bowie on my scooter.

Things to look for in up-coming posts: Driving In Vientiane; The Chinese Market; This Is Not Vietnam; Music; Pétanque, and many, many others!


  1. get me the blue bra, some rice, green beans, and a few tomatoes... hold the entrails please!!!!

  2. So you guys really did it! I am impressed with your bravery and your incredible sense of adventure. Wish we could have gotten together before you left Toronto, but it must have been a mad rush. Wish you and Marie-Do and family all good things, and I look forward to more wonderful evocative writing...Love Sharon