A weekend sojourn to Little Saigon needs no passport, no paperwork, no squishy seat in economy. Rather, a quick trip by train or car lands you in the centre of a scene that throttles the senses and prompts you to wonder, how did I not know this was here?
A technicolour patchwork of fruits and vegetables you’ve likely never heard of let alone tasted, howling vendors peddling specials, and fast-paced foot traffic form Little Saigon’s warm welcome.
Freshly sliced fruit beckons you to taste test: dip a wedge of crisp pear in accompanying chilli salt and marvel at the flavour sensation. Try dragon fruit, assess the avocados, and make sure the mandarins are to your liking – sampling the buffet is enthusiastically encouraged.
We took a Wednesday field trip to this gem of the west and found it bustling at 9am. It’s tricky to find a spot to stand still; within seconds of being stationary, you’ll have a trolley heaped with sacks of rice at your heels attempting to squeeze between you and buckets of still-nipping crabs. Our advice is keep moving. Like the crazy chaos of South-East Asian road rules, similar principles apply to the way shoppers move through the market – those who hesitate are left to eat the dust of people moving with well-practised purpose.
Little Saigon’s produce is wonderfully cheap. A week’s worth of fresh fruit and veg will seldom come to more than $30. And once you’ve bagged three generous bunches of herbs for $2, it’ll feel like being kicked in the shins next time you’re stung $2.95 for a sprig of supermarket coriander.
The market’s supply turns over at a rapid clip due to its position at the centre of a knot of South-East Asian and African restaurants that source produce daily. It’s rare you’ll find bruised, floppy, depressed-looking veg; rather, the broccoli is electric green, the cauliflowers resemble cumulus clouds, and each will keep longer than you might expect.
We shuffled around like clumsy, backpack-bedecked kids in a candy store (note, there is actually a candy section where legendary Pocky and Hello Panda cookies can be purchased). Loading up on ingredients core to the perfect bánh mì, we ping-ponged around the complex ogling mouth-watering morsels you’d normally only see during overseas adventures: tender fried squid, rainbow-coloured cakes floating in syrup and sticky, gelatinous, sugar-loaded rice sweets.
On your way out, weighed down with your crazy-cheap haul, grab a cheeky $5 bánh mì and an energy-replenishing Vietnamese coffee (there are vendors inside and out, and over a few visits you’ll undoubtedly lock down a favourite).
Although you’ve been cautioned against standing still, Little Saigon tempts you to pause and stare wide-eyed at the magic of Melbourne’s intoxicating diversity. This market has a way of making you dizzyingly thankful for the impact of cultures from around the world on the city’s richly layered and intensely flavoured identity.
Who would have thought a $4 Myki fee, or $2 in the parking meter, could hurl you into the hustle of Ho Chi Minh City?
SMUDGE SAYS REMEMBER TO…
- Take your own bags: vendors have a penchant for plastic and will load you up with as many as you can carry.
- Pack cash as nowhere accepts card. There’s an ATM inside if you need (if it’s on the fritz, try the nearby NAB on Hopkins Street or Westpac on Leeds Street).
- Take some loose change. Parking is cheap although it can be challenging on weekends when the market is heaving. Laps of Byron Street will bear fruit eventually.
- Go on an empty stomach. Enjoy the fruit sampling, tuck into a bánh mì, sip fresh, chilled sugarcane juice or bubble tea, indulge in fluffy pork buns, give Footscray phở a go (we’re partial to Phở Tam on the corner of Leeds and Byron Streets), or attempt all of the above.
Little Saigon Market, Footscray
Byron Street (between Leeds and Nicholson Streets)
Open seven days
Sunday –Thursday, 9am–6pm