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If you want to try authentic Vietnamese food, a trip to the Mekong Delta is essential. It's in this region that much of Vietnam's food is produced, particularly fish and rice. Unlike other tourist destinations you might visit in Vietnam, you can be sure that everything you eat here has been grown or caught locally and prepared using traditional recipes and methods. With their myriad of sights, sounds and smells, the Vietnamese floating markets are a treat for the senses and are a truly unmissable food experience.

Visiting the Mekong Delta

Located in one of the most beautiful parts of Vietnam, the landscape of the Mekong Delta is dominated by numerous paddy fields and groves of coconut trees and sugar cane. The region is also home to some of Vietnam’s biggest fisheries, so visiting here is a must for fans of freshly cooked seafood.

In the Mekong Delta, the many tributaries of the magnificent Mekong River are spread out, creating a vast maze of waterways. Boats are the main mode of transport here and they are vital to the locals' livelihoods. You’ll see them being used to transport everything from commuters and tourists to construction materials and even petrol. They are also used to ship food produced here to other parts of the country, or for taking it to be sold at one of the region's famous floating markets.

Exploring the floating markets of Vietnam

To visit a floating market, you'll need to be prepared for an early start. Although it varies between the different markets, most start between 3-5 am, or at the very latest, 7 am. The upside to this is that the heat will be less intense at this time of day and you'll get to enjoy watching the sunrise over the river. While most boats sell food (in the form of single items such as fruit, or fully cooked meals), you can sometimes find traders selling other goods, such as electronics. You'll also find live animals for sale, including lizards, snakes, turtles, rats and birds.

The markets are a vibrant scene as the river quickly fills with as many as 100 boats containing brightly coloured produce. You'll be captivated by hustle and bustle, as well as the many wonderful smells, from the mouthwatering scent of freshly fried fish to the distinctive aroma of durians. The people of the Mekong Delta are particularly known for their friendliness towards visitors. The traders here are always pleased to talk with tourists and share their knowledge of the local cuisine.

Floating markets are often held at the points where rivers meet, meaning that at one market you will find traders who are bringing with them specialities from their own different parts of the region. Some of the most popular floating markets include Cai Be (Tien Giang province), Long Xuyen (An Giang province), Nga Bay (Hau Giang province), Nga Nam (Soc Trang province), Tra On (Vinh Long province) and Phong Dien and Cai Rang in Can Tho.

To enjoy the markets at their best, consider joining a food tour; your tour guide will be able to offer invaluable insights that will ensure you don't miss out on trying any of the incredible foods that can be sampled here.

Vietnamese Food to Try

Visit any floating market and you'll find plenty of exotic fruit. Coconuts and mangoes are grown in the Mekong Delta, as well as longans, rambutans, dragon fruit and kumquats.

One fruit that you can't visit Vietnam without trying is the durian. Known in some regions as the 'king of fruits', as many as 60 different varieties of durian are grown here. This is a large fruit - durians can grow up to 30cm in length. They vary in shape from oblong to round and their flesh can be yellow, orange or even red. The fruit has a spiked outer skin that must be cut away to reveal segments of flesh with a creamy, foamy texture.

The durian is divisive due to its strong odour. Its smell has been likened by some to turpentine or even sewage, however, the nineteenth-century British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace liked its flavour, describing it as something akin to ‘a rich custard highly flavoured with almonds’.

Durian is often used in desserts, and another Vietnamese food speciality is the Pia cake. This circular cake contains durian and mung beans, or other fillings, encased in a pastry case.

You'll find several noodle soups being served on the markets but a favourite in the region is Hu Tieu Nam Vang (Nam Vang Noodle Soup). This sour soup consists of a pork broth with slim noodles and a variety of seafood, such as shrimp and squid, as well as pork, liver or heart, and eggs.

The Rice Bowls of the Mekong Delta

The Mekong Delta is known as the 'rice bowl', as it's where most of Vietnam's rice is grown. You'll therefore find lots of rice-based foods to try here, such as Banh Bo Thot Not; temptingly sweet steamed rice cakes made with palm sugar.

Puffed rice is a popular snack in the region and comes in many different flavours, or with toppings, including caramel, green tea, ginger or nuts.

If you're a fan of seafood, you'll revel in the variety found here. Crabs and clams are popular delicacies and you'll also find shrimp and many types of fish for sale on the floating markets. A favourite dish here features elephant ear fish, which is usually deep-fried to give it a golden crispy skin and an enticing smell. Fish like this is often served with a range of vegetables, rice vermicelli and rice paper for wrapping, as well as dipping sauces - ingredients that you can combine to fill your own delicious rice parcels.

Another popular sweet treat is Kẹo Dừa, or coconut candy, which you'll find almost everywhere.

Food and Drink Tours in Vietnam

Experience the floating markets for yourself with one of our Vietnam food tours. We offer an exciting range of food and drink experiences in Saigon. You can even learn to cook authentic Vietnamese food yourself with our Mekong Delta Floating Market Day Trip with Traditional Cooking Class.

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