At around midnight food stalls, covered with pandan-leaf porridge advertisements, at the Long Xuyen night market are still lit up.
Such porridge stalls can be seen throughout the delta. The region is famous for vegetarian offerings such as plain white-rice porridge, pandan-leaf porridge and bean porridge rather than the meat-based ones common throughout the rest of the country.
Unlike the northern region style, in which rice is pounded before being cooked, the porridges in the Mekong Delta are made from whole rice.
The pandan leaves, after being cleaned with water, are pounded to extract the juice, which gives the porridge a lush color.
Each cook has their unique way of adding the juice to ensure the color spreads evenly. Whole pandan leaves are also cooked along with the rice to give the porridge a gentle fragrance.
Bean porridge at the Long Xuyen night market in An Giang Province. Photo by VnExpress/Tam Linh.
The cooks refrain from using other herbs or spices to retain the taste of the rice. The only addition is thickened coconut milk, with salt and sugar.
A wide variety of toppings is available, making each food stall a veritable buffet table.
Customers could choose from lean pork braised with black pepper, stir-fried small shrimp, braised fish, fish and shrimp pastes, salted duck eggs, century eggs, and many more, and people usually choose two or more of them. There are also vegan-friendly options.
Salted eggs could be added to the porridges. Photo by VnExpress/Tam Linh.
Quynh Anh, a porridge stall owner for over 10 years in the night market at 77 Chu Van An Street, My Long Ward, usually serves the coconut milk in a separate bowl rather than mix it in the porridge unlike other stalls.
“Customers from other regions often find the coconut milk confusing, and it takes me time to explain,” she said. “Only when they are sure it is the local way do the customers try the dish.”
A bowl of porridge and toppings are charged at VND10,000 – 20,000 ($0.43-0.86) and it is VND5,000 – 10,000 for an additional small plate of toppings. A customer would spend VND30,000-60,000 for a meal on average.
This type of porridge stalls is becoming common in Saigon with its influx of migrants from rural areas and neighboring provinces, like the ones at Hang Xanh Junction in Binh Thanh District, which are open from late afternoon and through the night.