Reality bites

Michael Tatarski


A street food vendor in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Christian Berg

Traders in Motion: Identities and Contestations in the Vietnamese Marketplace
Kirsten Endres and Ann Marie Leshkowich (eds)
Cornell University Press: 2018
Le Thi Thuy has been a street food vendor in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s booming commercial centre, for a decade. She spent most of the years serving banh cuon, or rice noodle rolls, from a mobile cart outside the city zoo.

Business was good, but also stressful. “Back then, if there was a policeman or urban security officer in sight, I would tremble in fear and get ready to run away,” she told me through an interpreter.

Early this year, she was rounded up by local police and told that she had to relocate to a new street-food zone set up on a relatively quiet street near Notre Dame Cathedral. This area features twenty stalls where vendors alternate between breakfast and lunch shifts. They no longer have to fear a surprise police patrol, and the municipal health department helps them maintain hygiene, a common concern when it comes to street food.

Thuy’s relocation to a more permanent setting is part of a broader footpath-clearing initiative run by Doan Ngoc Hai, the vice-chair of District 1, Ho Chi Minh City’s shopping, business and tourism heart. This effort began in February 2017 and immediately made national headlines, as Hai and his aggressive team towed cars from footpaths, smashed walls that impeded walkways and confiscated food carts.

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