The global trend towards organic food has ensured that you can get almost your entire weekly shopping with an organic label on it these days.
The tag ‘organic’ is supposed to ensure that food is free from agribusiness tampering, whether genetic modification, pesticides or other chemicals. In Vietnam, specific concerns include toxic chemical sprays which are banned elsewhere, and growth enhancers, not to mention worries about what’s in the groundwater itself.
So, consumers in Vietnam want organic food. But are they getting it?
In the last few years, a number of outlets in Vietnam have been specialising in supplying organic food and consumables to the consumer, many of them operating online, but even still, consumer trust isn’t always there.
As one Facebook pundit called out: “Organic is the most abused word in Vietnam.”
The main problem is with certification. While there are many sellers claiming that they have organic stock, most of the time it’s not actually certified organic, so unless the consumer visits the farm or factory where the product is made, it’s nigh on impossible to know whether the claim is genuine.
“If you want to have an international quality status, you first need to have a report,” says Nguyen Huy Minh, CEO of Midori, a Hanoi-based organic vegetable delivery service. “This requires at least three or four tests, and each test costs around US$200, so to have a report you need about US$600, and the cost of maintaining this standard is around US$10,000 to US$20,000 per year, for each farm.
”Most farmers can’t afford this mammoth upkeep for the certification, so even if they’re following organic guidelines, their products will only get lost in a sea sprawling with shady vegetable dealers and false advertising.
“In order for the situation to change, more funding needs to be spent on subsidising certification fees for farmers, but the financing isn’t there,” says Minh.
In fact, if a farmer wants to gain international standard such as the USDA (US Department of Agriculture), they need to fork out hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even with the high price tag, though, some producers in Vietnam have achieved USDA certification. The first farm in Vietnam to achieve this was Organica in Dong Nai Province; they achieved this in early 2013 with the support of the Netherlands-based certification organisation, Control Union.
So Where Can I Buy Organic?
Even with the lack of certification and vegetable-related trust issues going around, it’s still possible to source organic food in Hanoi at least.
First off, it’s important to note that several farms around Hanoi are actually producing food grown by organic standards, but either can’t afford, or refuse to pay certification fees. These producers generally advertise their products as ‘natural’ or ‘clean’, and sometimes as ‘organic’. Trust is essential here, and if you can’t trust the seller, then it might be worth visiting their site of production to check for yourself what’s going on.
But to save you the trip, here is a list of trusted outlets and suppliers that you can rely on for your weekly shop.
Midori delivers right to your door, in a cool box. They have about 400 products and target the expat community in Hanoi. Their menu labels products that are organic, and guarantees that the rest is natural and clean. They have a team that routinely inspects the farms that they work with to ensure that only the highest quality products are sold. Ideal for fruit and vegetables. And also craft beer (where isn’t selling that stuff nowadays?).
4, Alley 67 To Ngoc Van, Tay Ho
The shop behind the organic weekend market on To Ngoc Van, a lot of people don’t realise that the shop is open all week. Ideal for vegetables, rice, and whatever the stalls are selling on the weekend. Most of their produce is supplied by the Thanh Xuan Cooporative — an organic farm near Noi Bai Airport.
114 Xuan Dieu, Tay Ho
Betterday specialise in organic tea and coffee, honey, and a range of cosmetic products like shampoo and soap. Prices are reasonable, and their selection will make you realise just how much of your weekly shop you can source organically.
8 Xuan Dieu, Tay Ho
Not to be confused with the above. While Betterworld doesn’t specialise in organic products, they do sell chocolate and honey from Viri, a company that specialises in natural and locally produced treats. They also sell a range of clothing from countries as diverse as Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Thailand, all of which is bought from local sellers or makers of the clothes and crafts. Ideal for gifts.
Market at Maison de Tet
Villa 156 Tu Hoa, Tay Ho
Maison de Tet use only natural and organic ingredients in their menu, and now they have a permanent market on the first floor where you can buy fruit, veggies and honey. They also have a monthly market full of organic and fair trade stalls.
25 Xuan Dieu, Tay Ho
A well-known and much loved café that also sells up organic coffee and tea, most of it sourced from rural areas in Vietnam.
Specialising in fruit, most of the products are imported from abroad and while not necessarily organic, meet international quality standards. Due to the fact the products are imported, they’re generally very expensive.
A Facebook group that suggests farms that produce natural and clean vegetables and meat. While not certified organic, they’re more trustworthy than buying blind at the market. Goods ordered via the group are delivered to your door for a fee.
There are a surprising amount of shops in Hanoi selling organic (huu co) and clean (rau sach) fruit and vegetables. Many of these have achieved the local PGS (Participatory Guarantee Systems) certification, an organic certification developed by Agriculture Development Denmark Asia and the VietNam Farmer’s Union in the late 2000s. This doesn’t mean all the products on sale are certified organic, but it’s a start. And of course, having a certification is one thing. Actually selling organic produce is something else altogether.
For a list of shops with this certification, click on the following link. The info is in Vietnamese: vietnamorganic.vn/ chi-tiet-tin/182
PHOTOS BY JULIE VOLA