The Cultural Importance of Vietnam Traditional Market (Chợ)

A striking feature of Vietnam and other South-East Asia countries is their countless traditional markets. You can find "Chợ" - Vietnam traditional market in every neighborhood, with vendors displaying goods from A to Z. Let’s look closer and you’ll see that "Chợ" is more than a market or a retail space, but rather a communal place with indescribable cultural values. 

The origin of Vietnamese traditional market

In Vietnam, traditional markets have always played a vital part in daily life, especially back when people still lived under a self-sufficient and rural economy. Markets were a place where the locals could trade their daily necessities, while socialising and exchanging local news. Their importance can be put simply by a famous Vietnamese proverb: “A market has its regulations; a village has its customs". 

Sights of Vietnamese traditional market have been noted in written records from the end of the 13th century. Prior to what we see nowadays, traditional Vietnamese markets used to be divided into two types: those managed by the local administration and those managed by a local temple. Accordingly, profits from all market management would thus go back either to local communities or to the temple.

Traditional markets have always played a vital part in daily life of Vietnamese people

In the past, markets were not only a place for businesses but culturally, they also served as a community’s centre where locals had the chance to socialise. In addition to being able to sell or buy goods, both traders and customers were able to meet up and exchange or gather news about what was going on around the neighborhood. 

While most markets share some of the same features, there are quite a difference among markets of different areas. Markets in small villages or communities could be simply set up with makeshift stalls, benches or even just a piece of cloth laid out on the bare ground. Markets in towns were, in general, bigger and would have permanent shop houses. 

In the 18th and 19th centuries in prominent towns such as HCM city, Hanoi or Hue, there were markets that focused on one particular trade, such as clothes, paper, tin and copper household utensils, and leather. Street names in the old quarter of Hanoi clearly reflect this specific commercial trends in the cities as each street name tell you what you could expect to buy from the area. For example, Phố Hàng Bạc (bạc means silver) specialised in silver products whereas Hàng Chiếu (chiếu means mat) would have plenty of sleeping mats for you to choose from. Some of these traditions still carry on to the present day.

Some features of Vietnamese traditional market that makes it so unique

It has literally everything

It’s true. "Chợ", especially the old ones, has as many goods as you can find on the market from the daily household wares to a collection of clothes, shoes, bags to jewelry stores and toy stores and books or school appliances to smokingly good food stalls. The list goes on and on as you walk inside a traditional market. Some may describe "Chợ" as an infinite maze that the longer you stay, the harder it gets to find the way out. 

It is where Vietnamese socialize

Vietnamese traditional markets, as told before, is not just a place for business, for buying and selling only but also a communal space. We get our best deals here but also get as much fun and great stories from here also. Most sellers are friendly and always ready to tell you stories in the neighborhood and ready to listen to you too. Slowly you’re building this close relationship with people in your community, making us more human after all. 

Especially in many highland areas or areas where neighborhoods and houses are built far from each other, communicating is harder. Chợ then acts as a place where people exchange goods to make a living and more importantly, people have the chance to meet up and converse. It’s also a chance for lovers to get to know each other. 

Each traditional market is unique and differs from one to another

This is because each chợ has some distinct characters based on their geographical features or the neighborhood’s customs. It could be some specialties that only some chợ has or the way chợ is arranged and managed by the locals. Every little thing counts. Only by visiting a "chợ" in reality can you see all the cultural differences and insightful delightment.

Vietnam also has market on the river

How has Vietnamese traditional market changed to this day?

As globalization and modernization starts to grow faster in Vietnam, "Chợ" is no longer the only retail place, instead, consumers are slowly getting used to going to supermarkets or convenience stores. Some traditional markets have been demolished for the rising of entertainment centers or commerce buildings. If visit Hanoi, you can find Hang Da building that used to be a traditional market.

Nowadays, you only see middle-aged to old women buying in traditional markets while the younger generation opt for a more convenient option: supermarket. It’s somehow such a pity to picture that someday, "chợ" will either have to change its way or be forgotten.

However, it may take a long time for that to happen. The market, still and will stick with the shopping habit of Vietnamese people because of its convenience and community spirit.

Wandering around "Chợ" is a real down-to-earth relaxation for any of us stressed souls. It is where all the laughing and chatting are at, where you can find yourself connecting with the locals closer than ever!

Named after the progenitor of Vietnamese cuisine, Lang Lieu Restaurant dedicate ourselves to providing a special journey back time so that every guest can fully sense Vietnamese culture-rich history through the food we serve. Our menu presents signature traditional dishes in Northern Vietnam, from the Old Quarter of Hanoi to the mountainous North-West and North-East. Also, located right in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, Lang Lieu has such a tranquil vibe that you will immediately find peace the moment you step past the door.