d’iberville — Pickled lemons, soybean drinks, squid shreds, grass jelly, lotus nuts and 25-pound bags of rice may not be on the shopping list of your average American. But for the immigrant Vietnamese community on the Coast, the Asian foods that make up their diet usually can’t be found at the local supermarket.
The Vietnamese community on the Coast has had its own Asian markets in Biloxi for many years. And now a family that saw a need for a similar store to serve the Vietnamese community in D’Iberville has opened Sai Gon Supermarket on Central Avenue in D’Iberville.
“I got tired of going across the bridge every time I wanted some bean sprouts,” said Danielle Tran, manager of Sai Gon Supermarket. “A lot of people were glad we opened because they didn’t want to cross the bay and Main Street.”
With road construction and heavy casino traffic, there are advantages to not having to go across bay to shop in Biloxi.
A lot of the Vietnamese have found work in Biloxi casinos. Other favored professions are commercial fishing and seafood processing. Many of the immigrant Vietnamese settled on the Coast because it was similar to the coastal areas of Vietnam that they left.
Sai Gon Supermarket is a family business owned by Tran, her husband Sonny, and his brother and wife. The store, which is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days per week, opened about three months ago.
Although most of the store’s customers are Vietnamese, other Coast residents also patronize the store looking for something a little different to spice up their diet.
Tran, who has a Vietnamese mother and American father, said it has been a dream of hers for a long time to open her own business. She has been happy with the response from customers and, like any new business owner, is learning what it takes to turn a dream into a reality. She works long hours and takes off only one day a week, Monday.
She said the most difficult thing so far has been taking care of the green vegetables. The store carries a selection of different kinds of Vietnamese vegetables and fruits that are largely foreign to the average American.
Some, like different types of mint, might be recognizable but are rarely used in American cooking. Tran found that the greens need daily care and replenishment to make sure they don’t spoil. The greens have names like Khoai Mon and Cu san. Fruit offerings are equally unusual with, for example, grapefruit nearly as large as a volleyball.
The Vietnamese eat a lot of rice, so the store stocks 25-pound bags of rice and sells special rice cookers and other cookware such as an electric steam boat.
Lunch items are also distinctly Asian. Besides unusual dessert offerings, the store sells Vietnamese poboys made from two types of Vietnamese ham, roast beef, shredded carrots and cucumbers, parsley and Vietnamese cilantro.
Some of the Asian offerings are similar to what are sold in health food stores. Those include tofu, miso soup, wakame soup and soup bean packages. Soybean drinks in many flavors are also available. Most Asians are lactose intolerant, which means they have difficulty digesting milk products. Instead of milk, most prefer drinking and cooking with soy milk.