Jun 23 2011
If you’ve managed to walk around Old Quarter in Hanoi and not be accosted by a lady in a conical hat trying to put her shoulder pole, supporting baskets of fruit, on your shoulder for a photo, you’re in the minority. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been approached and have yet to say yes: the world already has quite enough photos of me. My mother, however, was a bit more obliging. She got the shot then found herself paying 50,000VND for few chunks of pineapple. That’s a lot, by the way.
Of course, you’re not just paying for the fruit, you’re paying for the photo — so pay whatever you think it’s worth — but if you just want some fruit you’re unlikely to get a good price from these women, however much you bargain. In fact, buying fruit anywhere in Old Quarter is likely to cost you more than it should, but that’s tourism.
So, with 18 months’ experience under my belt — and some input from the cook at work — here are some common fruits and some pricing guidelines. Bear in mind that fruits go in and out of season, so prices do vary.
There are many different types of banana available. Unexpectedly, from what I’ve worked out, they call the short, fat bananas ‘Western’ — even though we tend to eat more of the long, thin, bendy ones. Anyway, 2,000 VND per banana is reasonable, although you might get them for less.
God bless the pineapple ladies and their swift knives. The pain of pineapple preparation — and the loss of half the fruit as I try to cut out the eyes — is a thing of the past. Now I buy ready-prepared pineapple at a helluva lot less than I pay in Marks and Spencers. Chunks of pineapple are usually sold in yellow plastic bags — check out roughly how many pineapples are in there (they tend to use baby pineapples and cut them into quarters or sixths) and pay around 5,000 per pineapple. I usually pay 10,000 for a bag, sometimes 15,000 if I’m not in a bargaining mood. Either way, it’s not a bad price.
Mangos come in two basic types: the green ones are hard and sour and the yellow ones are sweeter and probably the ones you’ll be after — although the green variety are more local, often coming from Yen Chau. They tend to be sold whole, so still require preparation. Now, my cook told me to pay 15,000 to 18,000 VND per kilo for the yellow ones, but I’ve yet to get anyone that low. I pay 20,000 per kilo at a push, usually nearer 30,000. But do your best and let me know how you get on.
Lychees are just coming into season. Easy to eat, if a bit messy, and supremely delicious you should be able to buy a kilo for 20,000 VND while they’re abundant. My resident expert tells me that the best lychees are not the very big ones, but the rather smaller ones with pinky yellow thin skin. “They have a very deep sweet taste and a very tiny seed inside. Sometimes the seller decorates them with some borrowed leaves to make them heavier.” So watch out for those leaves.
Passionfruit are also great here. They’re so much bigger than back in the UK and good value too: locals will pay about 20,000 VND a kilo. I pay 20,000 to 25,000.
I could go on… dragonfruit, mangosteen, (green) oranges, plums, strawberries, pomelos, apples… but I’ll leave you to explore the rest.
A note on where to buy: of course, start with the women on bikes but for a wider choice in one place — and potentially lower prices – head north of Old Quarter to the streets behind Dong Xuan.
And finally, please bear in mind that these prices are just a guide. Negotiate for sure, but also remember that many of the women who sell fruit on the streets of Hanoi are struggling to make a living to send money home to their families, so put the amount you’re haggling over in context and whatever you do, don’t get abusive. Lecture over.
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