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Food from Home: Local Vietnamese Market Attracts Attention

Common produce at a Vietnamese market.

Common produce at a Vietnamese market. /Nathan Gray on Flickr (Creative Commons - BY, ND, SA)

Underwriting support from:


This article was written and revised by Erica Beerens, 
Kristi Brink
, Kristan Ghent, 
Jacob Torres, and 
Phuong-Loan Pham for EN 101-1300 at GRCC.

When people in Grand Rapids think of grocery stores or markets, they usually think of the typical one-stop shops like Family Fare or Meijer.  But many people don’t realize how much diversity there is in the Grand Rapids grocery scene. For those who need special spices or unusual ingredients, ethnic grocery stores, such as Saigon Market, are essential. Saigon Market is unique and includes foods many Grand Rapidians have never heard of.

Of the four Vietnamese markets in Grand Rapids, Saigon is the most popular. This privately owned Vietnamese market opened nearly 30 years ago and is very well known by the regular customers who shop there.  It is the only Vietnamese market owned by Lu Quach and has a loyal following of Vietnamese locals who shop there to get the ingredients they need to make traditional foods.

As you walk in through Saigon Market’s sliding doors you will notice white walls around you, eight small aisles in front of you, and a scent of fresh fish and seasonings. At first it may appear messy and crowded; however, the store is only made up of 7,000 square feet -- a small space for a lot of food.  In addition, there are only four employees that do everything from keeping the shelves stocked to ringing up customers before they leave. The store even has a meat counter just like any other grocery store, but instead of selling ham and turkey, it sells Vietnamese delicacies like pig tongue, raw blood, and pig intestines. Vietnamese markets, like Saigon Market, are the only places where these foods are available to purchase.

But how do these rare Vietnamese foods get to Grand Rapids?  According to Lu Quach, food in his market is shipped to the city by truck from Los Angeles, Florida, and Texas.

“The foods are fresh and very good,” according to Phuong Nguyen, a customer who shops at Saigon Market often. “They have just what I need to make my [Vietnamese] meals from home.”

Although it may seem unusual for Americans to shop at this small market, “there are many American people who visit this Vietnamese market [because] they love Vietnamese food and want to learn how to cook it,” Lu Quach said. In fact, many people "shop at Saigon Market because it is more convenient for those who want to cook Vietnamese meals, since all components of the meal are in one place."

Customer Phuong Nguyen said that Saigon Market is where she shops because “Vietnamese food is kind of complicated and needs many different types of seasonings, which are not found in other places.”

If you compare Saigon Market to American grocery stores, it is no surprise that people who make Vietnamese food shop there.

“Many American markets don’t have what we carry,” said Lu Quach.  

In fact, foods like duck eggs, water spinach, and rambutan, are not available in just any grocery store around Grand Rapids. Seasonings like tamarind soup base, five spice, and wonton soup seasoning, are only available in Saigon Market, or other similar Vietnamese stores.

So if you want to try your hand at cooking a Vietnamese dish or just want to experience a different shopping environment, check out Saigon Market at 609 28th St. S.E. in Grand Rapids.

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