by Cassidy Armbruster
Morning glory may be cheap in price, but it’s rich in Vietnamese food culture. This vegetable that was once considered protein for the poor is served with most Vietnamese rice and noodle dishes. The moist vegetable is often sautéed in garlic to give a flavorful salty taste. It’s a Vietnamese must try, but also an inevitable try if you plan on eating local Vietnamese dishes during your visit.
Morning glory is a semiaquatic plant that grows in water or damp soil and is from the same family as water spinach. The vegetable takes little to no care to cultivate. Because morning glory is so easy to maintain, it’s typical to be sold on the side by rice farmers. Most families in the countryside of Vietnam must take on several jobs at or around the home in order to make a living, such as growing and selling morning glory, making and selling mats, making and selling rice crackers and/or rice wine, and raising cattle to sell, butcher, and/or for mating. Clearly, the day doesn’t end when the crops are tended to.
This women, for example, was headed to the market in Hoi An at 9:30 in the morning to sell her produce. The woman cuts the morning glory every two weeks, separates it into batches, and then heads to town to sell, all before 10:00 in the morning, and with time for a tea break. After lunch, the woman will return to repeat the procedure, cutting several more batches to bring to the market to sell in the afternoon. Morning glory is sold in the countryside in batches for just 3,000 Vietnamese dong, or 0.134 US dollars, and for 5,000 Vietnamese dong, or 0.224 US dollars in the Hoi An market. Morning glory grows year round in a tropical/sub-tropical climate, so it doesn’t matter when you plan on visiting Vietnam, you are bound to have a try.
During and following the Vietnam war, many Vietnamese citizens emigrated to the United States, and they brought along the Vietnamese staple vegetable- morning glory. The cultivation of morning glory was first introduced to the United States in the state of Texas, and was eventually recognized as an invasive species. The plant was regulated because of it’s competition with native plants. Morning glory grows as a vine and shades native plants that can not survive without a certain amount of natural sunlight. According to Texas’s Invasive Database, the plant has been deemed legal with an exotic species permit as well as for personal consumption as of 2005. Despite the Texans distaste for morning glory, a small town in the El Paso county of Texas is named after the plant!
At the end of our day of exploration, Phi showed me his short cut through Hoi An’s alleyways on our way to a beautiful beachside lunch. We parked our vintage Vespa in the back of the restaurant and spoke with the lovely chefs and waiters as they prepared food for the guests. Meanwhile, Phi ordered us a shrimp soup, fried rice with vegetables, and a large side of morning glory. Of course, I indulged first in the fresh side of morning glory, mixing it both into my soup and my fried rice.