Dong Ba Market (Vietnamese spelling: Chợ Đông Ba) is one of the biggest traditional Vietnamese markets in Hue. With a history of over a hundred years, the market is inseparable from the life and culture of Hue people.
Dong Ba Market is a 3-story building with additional surrounding blocks covering 47 614 m². It’s situated by the Truong Tien Bridge, on the northern bank of the Perfume River.
Tips for Visiting Dong Ba Market
Dong Ba opens from the early morning to evening, but the morning is mostly for buying fresh produce. The best time to visit the market is around 3 PM when all the food stalls are open.
It’s also easier to haggle in the afternoon as the stall owners don’t want to deal with that first thing in the morning. Bargaining is not too difficult — just bid half of what is asked and slowly raise it until you have a deal.
You can make use of the morning by visiting the legacy of Hue Citadel nearby. If you want to stroll to Dong Ba Market, start at Nguyen Dinh Chieu Walking Street with its nice cafes. Afterward, cross the Perfume River (sông Hương) on the Truong Tien Bridge (cầu Trường Tiền) and take a right.
Interesting Things to Buy at Dong Ba Market
The first floor has all kinds of dried, cured, pickled, and fermented produce. These are some of the distinctive features of Central Vietnamese cuisine. Also, be careful, especially when buying Vietnamese cured meat here as Hue people like their peppercorns whole.
Salty fermented pastes can be made from different kinds of fish or shrimps and used as dipping sauce or seasoning. Of course, you’ll need some Vietnamese cooking classes or some handy online tips. Pickled produce can include fresh or dried ingredients from fish or shrimp and plants.
Also, on the first to the second floor are traditional handicrafts from villages of this once-a-capital city. You’ll find things from accessories to copperware like urns, bamboo-woven baskets, furniture, and pottery.
The third floor is where you can buy textiles and clothes. You’ll see, on display, how Hue people like their traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai (Áo Dài).
Non Bai Tho or Poem Hats
Nón Bài Thơ literally translates to Poem Hat and it’s a symbol of the beauty of Hue and its people. It’s typically lighter than the common Vietnamese conical hats. What’s special about it is the poem or drawing carefully woven in between its two layers of leaves.
Sometimes, you have to shine a light through the Non Bai Tho to see what’s crafted inside. The poems include literary works inspired by the Non Bai Tho themselves. The drawings are typically famous destinations in Hue like the citadel’s gate, the ancient imperial tombs, or the symbol of Hue, Thien Mu Pagoda.
Hue Royal Tea
Hue people like tea and not just green tea. They love teas like chamomile, rose, lotus, and even bitter gourd. Hue Royal Tea (trà Cung Đình Huế) was solely drunk by people of wealth and status. It comprises 16 herbal plants and is actually very easy to drink.
Common ingredients include artichokes, Asian liquorice, jasmine, chamomile, lotus seed’s core, bitter gourd, goji, dried and whole red jujube, star anise, and stevia leaves.
Other ingredients are more common in Vietnam like sicklepod beans, a type of yam called Dangshen, young buds of the Syzygium nervosum tree (a type of myrtle), and flowers of the Styphnolobium japonicum or Japanese Pagoda tree.
Mè xửng is a very popular traditional Vietnamese chewy confectionery and it goes perfectly with a cup of tea. The main ingredients are caramel, peanuts, and sesame seeds.
Fill Your Belly After Shopping
Dong Ba Market has many go-to food stalls for locals, especially the blocks surrounding the building. Explore and eat your fill with tasty noodle dishes, steamed rice flour treats, and sweet beverages.
Bun Bo Hue
Bun bo Hue (bún bò Huế) or Hue beef noodle soup is one of the most iconic dishes of this city. It’s a lot different and some even say they like it more than Pho. Bun bo Hue has stronger spices, richer broth, and thin rice noodles similar to vermicelli, unlike the Saigon variation.
Com Hen (cơm hến) or basket clam rice is another signature dish of Hue, especially for the working class. It was also one of Anthony Bourdain’s favorite dishes when he came to Hue in Parts Unknown.
Com Hen is a rice stir-fry with a type of freshwater clam, vegetables, toasted peanuts, and crispy pork rind. The dish is eaten with fish sauce and a specific fermented shrimp paste (mắm ruốc). There’s also a variation using thin rice noodles.
Pork Roast Dumplings in Sweet Soup
Like other places in Vietnam, Hue has a lot of che (chè) or sweet soup desserts. However, the most peculiar is the sweet soup with pork roast in tapioca dumplings (chè bột lọc heo quay). The name is self-explanatory, the soup is sweet but the small dumplings are savory — sure to rock your palate.
Glimpses of the Past at Dong Ba Market
The origin of Dong Ba Market was a market called Quy Giả Thị. It was outside the east gate of the Hue Citadel under King Gia Long, the first Nguyen King. In 1885, the French burned it down when they took the citadel.
In 1887, the 9th King Đồng Khánh rebuilt the market and named it Dong Ba. The next king, Thành Thái, relocated it in 1899 to where it stands now. Afterward, the market’s merchants were part of the revolutionary force in the wars against the French and the US.
In 1967, the South Vietnamese Government started renovating the site. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in a bombardment by the US the next year. Dong Ba Market wasn’t rebuilt into what it is today until after the Reunification Day in 1975.