Saigon’s Ben Thanh market is the ideal place to get a first glimpse of some of Vietnam’s food specialties. As we entered the indoor market, my eyes went right by the tropical fruit to a double row of tall glasses filled with fruity looking things. I’m big into desserts, so when I inquired what che was and an elderly lady told me “sweet soup”, I was quite confused.
After a bit more probing, I learnt that fruit is made into jelly cubes or cooked with plenty of sugar to create a syrupy cocktail which is then layered with tapioca pearls or even more exotic ingredients like lotus seeds, corn, red and white beans, or glutinous rice. Often, the concoction is packed with crushed ice and doused with coconut cream or sweet condensed milk to create a surprisingly refreshing dessert, which, I’m happy to say, is not like soup at all. The only problem I had was that it was so beautiful to look at, I didn’t want to eat it (and that doesn’t happen often).
Around the corner from the che stand, we came across Tony’s playground: the dried/candied fruit section. From kiwi, strawberry and mango to pineapple, coconut and ginger, there was just about every dried fruit you can imagine. Tony ended up buying so much candied ginger, we’ll probably still be munching on it a month from now.