Searching for one of these pepper farms that are supposed to be open to the public, my pal and I were riding around the general area, however unsuccessful. Now - at least I was quite successful in capturing some of my best images from Phu Quoc Island, but pepper farms? Nope.
So we decided to approach one of the "normal" pepper farms that line the street and are not open for visitor. However, the farmer's family was happy about the unexpected guests and we got quite some information about seasons, the harvest and where to actually buy the fragrant spice.
They indicated a shop down the road, and there we got our pepper. I also saw huge plastic containers with snake wine, one of the rather odd specialities you can get all over Vietnam.
The family also had two dogs. They were not pure bred Phu Quoc ridgebacks, but showed some of the most prominent criteria of Vietnam's only native dog breed.
Black pepper or Pipera nigrum is originally native to the south of India, but you can find plantations all over the tropical regions of the world. Vietnam is at the moment the biggest exporter of black pepper in the world, producing 34% of the entire pepper crop as of 2013.
Pepper is grown in many regions of Vietnam, mainly Dong Nai province and the South. Some of the best pepper you can find in Vietnam comes from Phu Quoc Island though. Mostly because the soil is more suitable for the plants, which in turn reduces the excessive usage of agrochemicals. Current development plans envision organic pepper production on the island, but it is hard to pull through and even harder to control, so that plan may take some time yet.
Pepper plants love mineral rich soil and that explains why most pepper farms are found in the northern region of the island near the mountains and Phu Quoc National Park. The data must be from around 2013, so slightly outdated, but it indicates 400 hectares of farmland dedicated to black pepper produce an annual crop of 1000 tons of high quality pepper. The main villages connected to pepper production are Cửa Dương, Gành Dầu, Cua Can, and Thom.
During dry season each year, the pepper gets harvested by hand, sorted, destemmed and dried in the sunshine. Due to this personal care of the people tending their crop, Phu Quoc pepper can almost rival the quality of Kampot pepper from nearby Cambodia and fetch a premium price on international markets. The government apparently plans to increase the farmland dedicated to pepper production on the island to 500 ha by 2020 and also implement organic and sustainable farming methods to comply to international GAP standards. Together with a drive to turn Phu Quoc Pepper into a brand in its own right, it may or may not reach serious levels of competitiveness.
There are different kinds of pepper available for sale on the local markets and specialised shops. Green, white and black. While green pepper is usually the fresh product and excellent for cooking a seriously fragrant, savoury and peppery sauce that goes very well with dark meat (pepper steak, love it), there are methods to dry pepper while preserving the green colour. Black pepper is the whole peppercorn dried together with skin and pulp. White pepper is skinned and depulped before it's dried and supplies heat to your dish without making it overly peppery like black pepper would. Especially in Austrian cuisine, white pepper is often used in white sauces for aesthetic purposes. Rumour has it that on Phu Quoc you can also find pink and red pepper. However, I was unsuccessful in doing so. Almost 100% of the pepper species used on the island is Pipera niger.
Phu Quoc Water Sports Holidays on a tropical island would be odd without the opportunity to do sports. Water sports. Here is a selection of stuff that you can try on Phu Quoc.
Shopping on Phu Quoc You can get some really interesting products from Phu Quoc, mainly pepper, pearls and fish sauce. There are other things too, just check out the variety of shopping opportunities on the island.