Tamarinds have been present in Ho Chi Minh City for such a long period that they are now steeped in the metropolis’ history and may evoke nostalgic memories from long-time residents here.
Tamarinds, or cay me in Vietnamese, were first introduced to Saigon by the French navy in 1865, when France established the colonial rule over it, and were accordingly known as admirals’ tamarinds.
Then French botanist Jean Baptiste Louis Pierre, who founded and directed the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens, wanted trees to be grown to provide street-side shade in the entire tropical city.
For this purpose he chose the tamarind, a drought-resistant tree with dense foliage and roots that do not break sidewalks.
|Tamarind leaves are pictured near a French-style building in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
|A tamarind tree on a street in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
Tamarinds’ acidulous fruits were once imported into metropolitan France as a food ingredient and are also used in Vietnamese canh chua or sour soup.
In 1929 the municipal government banned roadside parking for several hours a day on what is now Dong Khoi Street in downtown District 1 in order to protect the tamarinds cultivated there.
However the administration later intended to cut the trees down, but a backlash that this triggered forced it to abandon the plan and the tamarinds on Dong Khoi Street have survived for decades until now.
Old tamarinds can now be seen along Ly Tu Trong, Vo Van Tan and Nguyen Du Streets.
To some Saigonese, the trees may rekindle memories of elderly bicycle repairmen and barbers working on the sidewalks under them and couples going hand in hand in a shower of tamarind leaves.
|A foreigner walks under tamarinds on a street in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
|Motorbike riders wait at the traffic lights near tamarinds on a street in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
|Foreigners are seen walking on a street with tamarinds in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
|Pedestrians walk under tamarinds on a street in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
|A motorbike taxi driver sits in the shade of a tamarind on a street in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
|Xich lo (trishaw) run on a street in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre|