Ho Chi Minh City celebrated the 100 year anniversary of the iconic market Ben Thanh last week.
The French took over the city when the old Ben Thanh market was near collapse and built another at its current location, close to a railway station linked to the nearby delta’s town of My Tho.
Construction lasted between 1912 and 1914.
Today the market contains around 3,000 booths occupying over 1.3 hectares, attracting 15,000 customer arrivals every day. International travel magazines have recognized it as one of the world’s top street food destinations.
Researcher Ly Luoc Tam says the market was the meeting point of many roads until 1940s. Horse carts lined what is now Ham Nghi Street, a railway station occupied the area to its south.
“It was such a good idea for the French bring so many routes together at Ben Thanh market,” Tam told Tuoi Tre. “The market’s image as a result quickly became familiar to many people from many areas.”
The 84-year-old researcher said he still recalled the days that he and his father took a bus to Ben Thanh from Lai Thieu, a town 20 kilometers to the north of the city which is now part of Binh Duong Province.
“I was 7 or 8 years old and what I remember most is there were a lot of Chinese and Indian vendors at the market," he said. "Vietnamese people ran food booths at the center.”
He said people who could afford to shop at Ben Thanh were usually rich people, and the market was considered a symbol of urban culture.
Nguyen Anh Kiet, a 60-year-old city local, grew up in a family that helped create that culture.
Kiet said the market grounds once consisted of water spinach fields that locals would fish after heavy rain.
A large portion of the land belonged to his mother’s grandfather, so the family was allocated many booths at the market following its construciton.
“My grandmother and her sisters sold there from 1914 until 1944 when the Japanese bombed the market. Everyone was scared and my mother’s family evacuated, some to what is now Phu Nhuan District and others to Ben Tre Province [in the Mekong Delta].”
Kiet has collected his own memories and stories passed down from his family. He remembers that the market mainly supplied high-end food to Indian and French hotels and restaurants in the city.
“Trade was good. My grandmother only stayed open for the six dry months and closed during the monsoon season; she grew rich between 1914 and 1923, saving a lot of gold.
“She sold thousands of dry coconuts a day to Indian restaurants alone, and it was normal to have tons of pumpkins in the house.”
Kiet said that common city residents hardly came to the market.
But, Ben Thanh wasn't a mere symbol of luxury.
It became the center of revolutionary demonstrations during the Vietnam War, which exploded after a schoolgirl named Quach Thi Trang was shot dead while leading the first.
It also offered many northern soldiers a place to buy gifts for relatives back home after the reunification of the country.
Pham Huu Minh, a tour guide, said any decent tour guide should bring foreign visitors to Ben Thanh due to its great historical value.
Minh said tourists enjoy its lively atmosphere and the freshness of its products.
During the 100-year anniversary, the market's managers announced plans to launch a website and install wireless Internet throughout the grounds of Ben Thanh.
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