Shopping With The Real Housewives of Saigon – 91 of 365

Shopping in the Street Market

Pushing and shoving with the Real Housewives of Saigon in their conical hats and overly colorful pajamas at the street market is fun.   Selecting food from sidewalk mats is some seriously cheap entertainment, too.  The equivalent of three dollars loads up flimsy plastic bags full of avocado, five birdseye chili peppers, two spring onions, pumpkin flowers, large bushels of cilantro, perilla, parsley, and mint, a watermelon, an onion, four cucumbers, two pieces of a fruit called “breast milk,” a head of bibb lettuce and two spring onions.  Wow.  How big a hole would Whole Foods blow in our wallets for all this?

Of course a western guy on foot looking much like a sweaty grocery pack mule attracts all sorts of curious stares and unwanted attention including busybodies randomly opening and inspecting the bags.  Even in my highrise, Vietnamese women don’t quite know what to make of my down and dirty local food shopping.  After the rest of the elevator had emptied out on lower floors, the one remaining passenger even incredulously asked, “You like Vietnamese fruit and vegetable?”

Pumpkin Flowers

Why yes, of course I do, lady.  Why else would I be heaving three heavy bags of this crap down the alley in this kind of heat?   As she exited on floor 12A (that’s our 13), she said, “Many foreigner cannot eat Vietnamese fruit and vegetable.  You lucky.  Strong stomach. Ha Ha Ha.”  She patted hers with a laugh that disappeared behind the closing doors.

While schlepping my groceries down the hallway, I got to thinking about how difficult shopping for the pizza earlier this week had been.  By the time I punched the keyless access code into my front door, my new challenge had become cooking a western dish from these market ingredients.  The pumpkin flowers were the wildcard though as I had neither cooked or eaten them before.  I had only bought a bushel solely because they looked neat heaped all over that green tarp.  A few quality minutes on the internet soon enough revealed a simple recipe for stuffed zucchini blossoms with rice in the Greek section of  Close enough since a flower is a flower, right?

The Finished Product

I understand why westerners don’t cook from scratch much anymore after having spent two hours prepping and cooking the ingredients for these kolokythanthoi yemistoi me ryzi.  Grating onions and tomatoes is time consuming enough but have you ever peeled the external leaves of a flower and then removed the pistils and stamens from the narrow insides?   Of course I didn’t have a kitchen knife small enough for the task and had to actually sterilize and use a Swiss army knife for the surgical work.  And trial and error has taught me a homemaking tip…wash the flowers after they have been prepped as dry ones are easier to work with.

This entire meal of 30 pieces cost just over a dollar and turned out to be worth the time and effort.   I was actually quite amazed a Greek dish I had never before heard of could emerge from bags of street market groceries.  Boiling the remaining rice stuffing made a flavor packed side dish, too.  I’d love to run into my elevator buddy again and show her I am certainly not afraid of Vietnamese produce or cooking it up Greek.

Stuffed Zucchini (or Pumpkin) Blossoms with Rice


20 zucchini blossoms

1 1/2 cups of long grain rice

1 medium onion, grated

3 tomatoes, grated or finely chopped

1/2 bunch of fresh parsley, finely chopped

1/2 bunch of fresh mint, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

1-2 teaspoons of olive oil

1 cup of water

1/4 cup of olive oil


Rinse the zucchini blossoms individually, removing any external green leaves and internal pistil and stamen, using a sharp knife. Take care not to tear the blossoms. Once rinsed, place the bottom of each blossom into the opening of another to prevent from closing, and set aside to drain thoroughly. Pat dry before using.

Note: The pistil and stamen do not need to be removed, but most Greek cooks do take them out.

In a mixing bowl, combine rice, onion, tomatoes, parsley, mint, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Add 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil to help bind and mix thoroughly.

Carefully fill each blossom with 1 teaspoon of the mixture. Fold the open end of the blossom inward and turn underneath, and place in a wide pot or deep skillet. Continue until all blossoms are filled, and placed snugly in a single layer in the pot.

Add 1 cup of water and 1/4 cup of olive oil.

Bring to a boil and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes.

Yield: 20 pieces

Meatless stuffed zucchini blossoms are served at room temperature.



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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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