Nancy market

By Michael Smith, Thanh Nien News

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Food brings people together on a whole range of levels. Historic Nancy Market on the border of districts one and five in Ho Chi Minh City has a buzzing social network and serves food day and night.
Every morning I see him slaughtering the chickens opposite the manicurist.
Nancy market is busiest in the morning but a few stalls are still open at night. The market maybe to make way for a new road
The chicken seller works from 6 a.m. until late and customers can be assured the meat is fresh.
The live birds are kept in a small enclosed trailer.
He carries them by the neck to the wet wooden bench beside the stained alley wall.
The panicked chickens hold their wings outstretched ready for the chance to escape.
He bleeds them, scolds them, plucks them and puts their feathers in a bucket, while the manicurist does her customers’ toenails.
Living beside a market in HCMC is a great convenience.
Many locals like it because it’s so simple to buy meat, fish, fruit and vegetables.
But these hectic centers of commerce are homes to large vibrant communities, with friendly people and many different characters.
I live near Nancy Market on Nguyen Van Cu and the small produce center provides me with a large part of my daily life.
Nancy Market is at the end of Nguyen Van Cu and it is hidden by one of the drain enclosures on Tran Hung Dao (continuous with Le Loi).
Drainage is a problem for the market as it occasionally floods even when it’s dry.
There are about 200 fresh food and grocery stalls, some of them so close together it is hard to differentiate.
The best illustration of fresh is the zillion kinds of live fish which are still are confused by their recent motorbike ride.
For a small market Nancy is well known.
I can easily tell people where I live by just saying “Nancy”.
I can say it to xe om drivers anywhere in HCMC and be delivered to my home.
It is an interesting place with never a dull moment.
People are always there day and night.
The market is most vibrant in the mornings with some stalls opening at 5 a.m.
I have my prescribed morning caffeine hit at an old lady’s coffee stall under an awning and watch the constant flow of shoppers and stall holders.
The old lady or one of her family makes the coffee and sets out the tiny plastic furniture.
The freestanding stall vendors on the street pay no rent, but the lady who sells bread next to the “cafe” pays VND100,000 a day for a place under a house front awning.
She has worked at the market for thirty years.
On the corner is the xe om taxi rank- a friendly group of regulars with their different characteristic riding styles.
Some sedate, others verging on mania, it is helpful to remember which one is which on more fragile days.
Before I rented my own motorcycle I had one particular xe om who made it his business to provide me with transport.
He often got drunk in the markets at night.
I had my reservations about supporting his drinking habits but I couldn’t put my head out the gate without him calling my name.
After dark little bars with low stools and tables set up in the light of street lamps.
They stay open well past midnight, while the rest of the market sleeps or is deserted.
Old and young alike get cloudy eyed as they drink viscous liquor out of shot glasses and share jokes around the table.
The snail and shellfish seller stays open until very late as well.
She does a steady trade supplying drinkers and other night owls with nibbles.
Presiding over an array of tasty seafood morsels, she knows all.
She also serves duck embryo eggs which are popular with the late night crowd.
On the corner in the evenings from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m. is a roast chestnut seller.
She cooks the chestnuts in big roasting pot full of hot stones.
Motorbikes on Tran Hung Dao stop by briefly to pick up a brown paper bag of the hot tasty nuts.
The future of the market is uncertain.
At the far end you can see why.
A bridge is being built to link Nguyen Van Cu to the other side of the river.
The unfinished end hangs in the air with rusty reinforcing protruding like the teeth of a panting dog.
The road is coming straight through the busy market area.
But the mood is easy going.
The bread seller who has worked at Nancy for thirty years says she will just move back to the area across the road where the market was originally.

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