Several rural products can easily be found in Sài Gòn.
Bambooware and rattanware—such as baskets of all shapes and sizes—are on sale on the sidewalk or push carts.
They are also sedge mats, bamboo venetian blinds, and a great variety of brooms carried on bicycles to virtually every door inside alleys in the inner city.
These rural products can also be baskets of small guavas, bình bát (wild sweetsop – Annona reticulata), cốm dẹp (green rice flakes) and rau càng cua (Herba peperomiae), many of which have been embedded in urban children’s childhood memories.
Favorite sweet soups in the countryside, especially in the Mekong Delta, have invaded many quarters of Sài Gòn, particularly where the poor live.
At the market, in addition to vegetables which are universally accepted by urban Vietnamese are several ones specific to rural areas—rau lang (leaves and branches of sweet potato), bông súng (India red water lily), bông điên điển (Sesbania), to name just a few.
They all make the urban meal more delicious because of their unusual taste.
In fact, they can prompt a city dweller to feel a tinge of rural smell or taste although he or she is in the middle of the city.
It is these rural products transported by unsophisticated means that are sources of income for many families, keeping alive their children’s hope for a better future.
The modern urban lifestyle can do away with these rural products.
However, without them, that lifestyle would become dull and lack the taste and flavor of the native land.
The predecessors of generations of today’s city dwellers came from the countryside where the above rural products were part of their daily life.
So, every time the Lunar New Year festival comes, Nguyễn Huệ Boulevard has a chance to turn into a street of flowers.
On the boulevard, many visitors stop at the exhibits reminiscent of the countryside.
That can be a scarecrow made of hay, a terra-cotta vase containing rainwater, a lift net, a small wooden boat or a clump of bamboo standing next to a cluster of banana trees.
To the Saigonese who have gained first-hand experience of rural life, images of a specific rural product may signify something.
A small bamboo basket with a coat of red-brown varnish may depict a grandfather at work when he made baskets at the front yard.
A man selling rural products door to door on his push cart may remind somebody of his or her father who made his living hawking around markets in the delta.
A woman carrying a bamboo pole on the shoulders laden with two heavy baskets at the two ends reminisces about a mother in the countryside coming home with her baskets full of sweet potatoes, cassava and dried fish.
In this regard, rural products are not only something to taste or use but also a way to revive sweet memories.
Stop for a moment to taste or touch these rural products in the hustle and bustle of the urban life.
Take the chance as you may no longer be able to do so in the future when the current of urbanization will wash them all away.
By NGUYỄN MINH HẢI
Source: The Saigon Times 8/1/2011