Vietnamese cuisine is world famous, but few visitors to be Southeast Asian country thisnk about what they will be sipping on the streets of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. That's a mistake: the country's drinks are as delicious and diverse as its cuisine.
Vietnamese people do not usually drink while they dine, perhaps because most meals are either soup-based or include soup at the end, to fill up "last holes." Enjoying a drink is a separate event, whether it's meeting friends for a coffee or stopping at a streetside stand for a refreshing juice. The exception, of course, is a boozy drinking session, where the focus is on the alchohol and the food is considered an accompaniment.
With each drink you try in Vietnam, you experience the influence of one hundred years of French and a thousand years of Chinese rule-the Chinese contributed the concept of food and drink as medicine, and the French introduced coffee in the 1800s. You will also be privy to Vietnamese ingeuity and the country's incredible bounty: drinks here make the most of ripe tropical fruit, fresh herbs, and rice.
A Note for Travelers
Most drinks in Vietnam
, including beer, are usually served over ice. In the past, refrigeration was not common, so drinks were room temperature untill poured over ice, and in the always hot-and-steamy south of Vietnam, a warm beer or soft drink does not really hit the spot.
While most guidebooks will tell you to always avoid ice when you travel in Southeast Asia, in Vietnam the ice tends to be safe. Large-scale ice production is one legacies of French rule, and there are many sanitary ice factories throughout the country that use filtered water and package ice untouched by human hands. As a general rule, if the ice you are being served has a hole in it, it's been made by a machine and is likely to be safe.
1. Fresh Coconut
Coconut water may have just shown up on your grocery store shelves a few years ago, but it's been a popular drink in Vietnam for centuries. You will not see the packaged stuff, though: here, it's drunk straight out of the coconut water is grassier, sweeter, and more flavored than anything you will find in a package-trying it is like drinking raw milk for the first time. Generally, the smaller coconuts are sweeter than the larger ones.
Whole coconuts are unwieldy to stor, so vendors will chop off the outer green husk and keep the small white inner shell, cut into a shape that will not fall over when put on a flat surface. These white globes are usually kept on ice untill you order one, then a giant machete is used to chop a hole on the top.
Coconuts are usually harvested when they are about seven weeks old-any earlier and the jouice is gassy, any later and it tastes too salty. To judge the readiness of the coconut, the harvester will chop one open to inspect the flesh, whis should be jelly but not completely translucent. Hard white coconut flesh is a sign that the fruit is too old for drinking.
Locals will advise you not to drinks coconut water after 5.pm if you want to sleep well, because they believe it has diuretic properties if you drink too much of it.
2. Fruit Smoothie
Smoothies are everywhere in Vietnam, and we are not just talking strawberry-banana. You will find smoothies with fresh dragonfruit, custard apple, and jackfruit, along with ice and condensed milk or yogurt. There are also avocado, and soursop smoothies, arefreshing sweet-and-tart treat made from fruit that's native to South and Central America and popular in Southeast Asia for a creamy flavor reminiscent or both strawberries and pineapples.
3. Herbal Tea
This sweet and nutty Vietnamese herbal tea is usually served over ice, making it perfect to sip in the chaos and noise of a Vietnamese wet market on a steamy day. Believed to have cooling properties according to Chinese medicine, the most basic herbal tea recipe contains sugar cane, nettle leaves, grass roots and com silk-an illustration of the Vietnamese aversion to wasting anything. Variations of this drinks can also include dried logan, the flower of the sawtooth herb, and roasted water chestnuts.
4. Sugar Cane Juice
Not as sickly sweet as you'd expect, sugar cane juice is another drink that's considered cooling. It's usally sold by street vendors, who use electric squashing machines, not unlike an old-fashioned wringer, to squeeze the juice from stalks of sugar cane. It's usually then mixed with juice from the calamansi, a tiny sour citrus fruit that smells like a mandarin. The finished product has a crisp grassy flavor that's very refreshing on a sweltering hot day. Sugar cane vendor advertise their wares openly, with a bucket of sugar cane stalks in fornt of their stall. They can also be identified by what looks like a ship's wheel on the side of the stall, part of the the electric wringer mechanism that juices the can before your eyes.
5. Artichoke Tea
The go-to drink for hungover Vietnamese, Artichoke Tea is believed to have liver-cleasing and detoxifing properties. There are two version of the tea, which is usually served with ice-the sweetened yellowish version made from the artichoke flower and the intensely bitter black version made from the artichoke stems. My advice is to avoid the black tea and go for the sweetened version, which has a delicate nutty flavor. Artichokes are grown in Dalat in Vietnam's cool Central Highlands but packets of artichoke tea are available in supermarkets throughout the country.
Beer is one of the exceptions to the rule that drinks are not served with food in Vietnam. In Vietnamese, the phrase "di nhau" means "to go drinking." but the term refers to much more than just drinks; there's a whole range of tapas-style dished that accompany a Vietnamese drinking session, such as prawns barbecued with cjili and salt, clams steamed with lamongrass, green mango with a prawn-chilli-salt dip, or coconut snails sauteed with butter and fish sauce.
Many Vietnamese beers are only available in their home region, so your options will vary depending where you travel. In the southern hub of ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, the local beers are Saigon Red, Saigon Special and 333, all lightly hopped and slightly sweeter than beers from other parts of the country. In the central region of Vietnam, the local beers are Huda (the name combines the words Hue, Vietnam's former Imparial capital, and Denmark), a slighttly more bitter beer believed to have originated from a French recipe. A visit to Hanoi is not considered complete without a pilgrimage to Bia Hoi Corner to try Bia Hoi (fresh beer), a low-alcohol draft beer with a clean, crisp taste.
Of couse, the locals do not always choose the local brew. Holland's Heineken, Singapore Tiger Beer, and Japan's Sapporo are also popular, and there's an increasing number of microbreweries producing a range of craft beers. Brew pubs in Vietnam usually serve Eastern European fare, such as saurages and sauerkraut, which is eaten local-style(with chopsticks).
7. Sticky Rice Wine
Drinking the hard stuff in Vietnam is for most part considered a man's domain. Rice wine, which clocks in at around 29.5% alcohol, is the raditional masculine tipple and drinking it is a social activiry. Groups of friends will gather to drinks rice wine out of a communal shot glass or two.
A range of wonderful snacks such as spicy squid jerky and barbecued meat or seafood usually accompanies this type of drinking session. Sticky rice wine is smoother and sweeter than the regular rice wine, which can be quite fiery. Neither should be confused with medicine wine, which is rice bottled with medicinal items which run the gamut from whole cobras, cuckoos, and seahouses to vegetarian options containing only herbs.
Vietnam is the world's biggest producer of Robusta coffee, a variety of bean that most coffe experts consider inferior to the Arabica type, thanks to its bitter and acrid tendencies. but the Vietnamese people know how to make the most of what they have. Local coffee beans are roasted with butter and fish sauce to bring out chocolate notes in the final brew. Vietnamese coffe is prepared using a small metal drip filter, and is most commonly served over ice. You can not walk a block of any street in the country and not see someone enjoying a coffe in one form or another.
The two most popular ways to drinks local coffe are ice coffe with condeensed milk or ice black coffe.
You can also get your caffeine mix with yougurt coffe or the Hanoian specialty, egg coffee, made with whipped edd yolk. These caffeinated wonders are so delicious to suck them down in three quick slurps. Yet the locals will spend an hour or more enjoying a coffee and the free iced tea that's offen served alongside it. Having a coffe is an execuse to sit and watch the world go by, either from small chair at a streetside stall or from the window of a blessedly air-conditioned cafe.