It may not look like much, but a trip to Sapa Market is great chance to try some authentic Vietnamese food.
By BOHEMIST STAFF
PRAGUE – To reach Sapa, you have to be determined. The so-called “Little Hanoi” of Prague is in the Libuš district, near the bus stop Sídliště Písnice which can take 45 minutes or more to reach one-way, depending on where you are coming from in Prague.
Sapa earned its nickname from the large Vietnamese community in the area who continue to operate stalls and restaurants out of the warehousing complex in which the market is located. The real Sa Pa is an area high in the northern most reaches of Vietnam, famous for its stunning geography and food.
The entry to the main market area is through a dark blue industrial foyer adjoined to a simply enormous Vietnamese restaurant.
Being hard to get to is not the only thing this Sapa has in common with its real life Vietnamese namesake. The market is an eclectic mix of dry goods, foods and restaurants, with the odd Vietnamese coffee cart thrown in for good measure and would not be out of place in Saigon or Hanoi.
The market is a huge sprawling complex of industrial-type warehouses, separated and connected by large concrete roads – keep your wits about you, delivery vans tend to careen quite haphazardly around the market’s roads.
It truly is a metropolis for all manner of consumer goods. You’ll find everything from aquariums to bikinis, snow jackets to live crabs.
But the food is the showstopper. Several Czech tour guides run food tours through Sapa market explaining the foreign ingredients available for purchase a litany of grocery stores.
We found the food goods shopping to be particularly excellent.
There is a large selection of soy, oyster and chilli sauces – some even homemade – rice paper and rice noodles, spices, curry powders and pastes that are a great buy, being substantially cheaper than the shelf prices in your local potraviny and with a greater variety. For those who have spent time in Asia, the brands (and ultimately the authenticity) will be familiar. If you are into Eastern cooking, picking up your supplies at Sapa is a must.
As well as groceries, Sapa boasts a phenomenal number of restaurants for those who have less of a DIY approach to eating.
Let your nose be the guide here, but we’d recommend steering clear of any Chinese restaurants, after all, you’ve not come all the way to Sapa just to eat some fried noodles (or maybe you have — we aren’t judging).
Phở is the main dish you should keep your eyes out for. Coming in two varieties – Bo (beef) or Ga (chicken) – this soupy rich noodle dish traditionally takes eight to 12 hours to prepare (so better to eat out than DIY this one) with the broth based on bone marrow and is basically a staple of Vietnamese cuisine. You can top up the flavor with chili, pickled garlic or soy sauce which will be available at your table when dining in.
We also tucked into the Bahn Mee, sticky rice noodles served with crunchy spring rolls and a sweet chili sauce.
The Bahn Bao is also highly recommended. This fluffy steamed bun is packed with pork and egg inside and is prepared fresh on the premises.
Last but not least the iced Vietnamese coffee is a must try. Vietnamese coffee has a unique flavor, thanks in part to the coffee “beans” being the droppings of Civet cats that subsist entirely on a diet of actual coffee beans. The concept is similar to the world’s most expensive coffee – Weasel coffee, popular in Indonesia and South American. The coffee is served in a concentrated shot and mixed with another shot of sweetened condensed milk and packed with crushed ice. Best consumed slowly so as to not be hit too hard by the sugar rush. Pick up one of the iced coffees from a street cart vendor in Sapa (the traditional ‘shop front’ of coffee vendors in Vietnam).
We recommend visiting Sapa over lunchtime to fill up on the delicious foods. Budget 2 to 3 hours at the market to explore the winding alleys.