One of my favorite things to do during rest days is grocery shopping. In every country we’ve visited, it’s always exciting to check out local foods in the grocery store and a lot of new or strange foods. We would linger through the fresh produce aisle for an hour to browse through new vegetables we’ve never seen before. The wet meat section, eggs section and go through the aisles with my reading glasses reading ingredients.
So far, I’ve been to four grocery stores in Saigon. Big C is a grocery chain owned by Casino, the same Casino in France. I heard that Big C will be sold to Thailand investors. Giant is a store inside Crescent Mall and it’s American owned, I was told. There is a grocery store also in VivoCity in Phu My Hung which is very similar to the one in Crescent Mall. Finally, VinaMart is a Vietnamese owned grocery store which to this day still puzzled why there is no air condition in the store. VinaMart is just down the street from our apartment but we only go there for emergencies like if we ran out of coffee. It’s hot in the store and the produce are all withered and the meat with some cool air in their refrigeration no longer look fresh. The only place that is cold is the dairy section.
The food products in Vietnam are so interesting and highly unhealthy unless you focus on vegetables, beans, fresh meats and fresh fruits. It’s important to read all labels if possible. I can read some Vietnamese and some of the ingredients are scary.
Milk products in Vietnam or made in Vietnam are mainly Vinamilk products. If you want to have yogurt with guar gum, stabilizers and a lot of sugar Vinamilk has that. I am shocked at the amount of sugar content in their milk products and with so much fillers. It’s hard to find no-sugar yogurt or milk, even then you are stuck with thickeners like guar gum. Everything I have seen in the dairy section, I avoid.
So, what do I get for dairy. If I get milk, I get the New Zealand, Australian and European imported milk. It’s not that much more expensive but the main ingredients is 100% whole milk. Most of them are pasteurized milk in a box so they are not usually in the refrigerated section. There is the demi-cream and full cream options.
What do we normally get in the grocery store?
The main proteins would be whole eggs and sometimes duck eggs (not the fertilized eggs). Duck eggs have thicker shells and a larger egg yolk compared to a chicken egg. There are about 7 different kinds of eggs in Vietnam. Some of the eggs I saw on the shelf are from a smaller kind of chicken so it’s about half the size of a whole egg. It’s also cheap protein. The eggs don’t come in dozens, just 10 and it’s about 24,000 dong about $1.00.
Chicken is something we buy all the time. Pork also and I usually boil it until it’s tender then wrap it with greens.
There are a lot of rice products from rice grains, rice powder, rice paper, rice noodles and more. White rice is predominant and a few black or brown rice. I usually get the brown long grained rice as a healthier option than white rice, just a bit more expensive but not to much. A 2KG bag cost me $2.80 and it will last us a couple of months.
There are a lot of beans and we like beans. I buy both canned and fresh legumes. The fresh legumes require soaking overnight so if I get lazy, the canned beans work just fine. Canned beans are similar price as the US but the fresh legumes are really cheap.
Fresh produce are cheap except for special ones that are organic and imported. There are a lot of greens. I am actually surprised to find beets because I can not think of any Vietnamese dish that actually have beets in them so not sure how they cook them. I normally just boil them and chop them up then toss it into a salad. Hmmm…
Mushrooms specially the Oyster mushrooms are super cheap, not even a dollar for a lot.
Be weary of soy sauce or any type of sauce in a bottle. The only soy sauce that had basic ingredients without artificial preservatives is Kikkoman, imported from Japan. It’s more expensive but worth it. I no longer use soy sauce or avoid it – in general I avoid soy products of any kind if I can. Silken tofu on the road side, yes however, not so often. There are a lot of fake meats but those have a lot of fillers and weird ingredients. Every soy sauce and sauce I’ve seen in the grocery store here are watered down, full of artificial ingredients and colors. Yikes.
I would rather eat out by the road side where I actually see the vendors making their own sauce for the day. Often I see vendors peeling and grating ginger, garlic, chopping chili peppers and making their own home made fish sauce.
MSG is very popular in Vietnam, and in Asia in general except India and Nepal. There is a whole aisle dedicated to MSG and you can buy a 2kg bag of MSG! I forgot to mention, 90% of the sauces and fish sauce I saw – even soy sauce have MSG. I have to say, from what I can see – everything has MSG.
Another product I’ve seen in many cooking shows is a powdered form of flavoring. I am not sure what it is but it’s sort of like an essence of flavoring. There is also an aisle of that and the ingredients are weird.
One thing I do like is how cheap their organic virgin coconut oil is. Love it! It’s certified organic.
It’s really quite an adventure to shop in the grocery stores in Vietnam.
I guess my biggest tip is to really read labels and stick with fresh whole foods instead of the processed food when traveling to Vietnam and shopping for groceries.
Don’t be alarmed, there are foods imported that are relatively affordable like oatmeal, muesli and some products that are familiar. Most grocery stores have an imported section.
Quinoa is EXPENSIVE! 1 lb of quinoa is $20!
One last thing, Vietnamese consume a lot of sugar! On top of that, energy drinks and artificial sweeteners are now invading a few aisles in the grocery store. It’s crazy.
Sometimes, you get lucky and find Vietnamese local products that are popping out with a more organic version. Yesterday, I saw 100% cacao powder ready to drink made in Vietnam. These kind of products are exciting to find because there is a modern movement to produce more healthier options to the consumers. It also uses native ingredients found in regions in Vietnam and are quite good. These products I believe are the next generation, just breaking through in the supermarkets to be accepted. Hopefully, in the future we find more or those!