By guest blogger, David Demartin
When visiting Vietnam one of the things that you should never miss is their simple but delectable drinks. The country is famous worldwide for their cuisine so it is not surprising that they also offer must-try drinks. Since Vietnam is a humid and hot country most drinks have cooling and relaxing effects.
Nước Mía (Sugar Cane Juice)
It is a famous drink sold on every street of Vietnam. This yummy treat is freshly squeezed using an electric squashing machine. Surprisingly it is not as sweet as you would expect it to be. The drink is usually served with Calamansi, a tiny sour lime found naturally in Southeast Asia. Sugar cane juice is not only delicious but also rich in electrolytes and antioxidants to fight dehydration. You will find sugar cane juice vendors everywhere, advertising their goods openly on the streets. They usually have buckets of sugar cane stalks displayed in the front of their stalls. The best sugar cane juice can be found on Cách Mạng Tháng Tám Street in Tân Bình District and along this way to District 3 in Saigon. An easy way for you to find sugar cane juice vendors is if you notice where there are schools, universities, markets or parks, etc., sugarcane juice vendors never are far away!
Rượu Nếp Cẩm (Vietnamese Sticky Rice Wine)
Rượu nếp cẩm literally translates to northern glutinous rice wine. The wine is made using sticky rice that is fermented with yeast. The wine will contain as much as 29.5% alcohol. In Vietnam drinking wine or other alcoholic drinks is more of a masculine activity. Men gather in groups to drink a glass or two of this wine after a hard day of work. When trying this out you can ask for snacks like barbequed meat or seafood which compliment the drink wonderfully. The best rượu nếp cẩm can be found in the North of Vietnam, and Hà Nội the capital, is famous for this drink.
Dừa Tươi (Fresh Coconut)
Coconut water has always been a popular drink in Vietnam and the rest of Southeast Asia. In Vietnam you will not see coconut milk packaged like the ones you see in grocery stores. Coconut water is served straight from a coconut with the vendors chopping the fruit once you order it. Generally smaller coconuts tend to be sweeter than larger ones. You can find the best coconut juice vendors which are near Hoàng Văn Thụ Park and on the street with the same name in Tân Bình district and near Tân Sơn Nhất international airport.
Nước Sâm (Ginseng Tea)
Ginseng tea in Vietnam is one of the most loved drinks. It has a sweet and nutty taste, and is usually served to compliment rice dishes. Nước Sâm usually consists of locally found ingredients like nettle leaves, grass roots, sugar cane, and corn silk. Some variations can also include other local ingredients such as dried longan, roasted water chestnuts, and spiky cilantro. You may find many street vendors with metal stalls wherever you go. However a shop located at the corner of Tạ Uyên – Dương Tử Giang Streets (district 11) has been famous for this drink for more than 20 years.
Nước Rau Má (Pennywort Juice)
Pennywort is a member of the carrot and dill family. In reality this drink tastes more like cucumber water and is served in most restaurants throughout the country. This drink will keep you hydrated under the humid Vietnam weather while you are touring the country. Finding this drink is just the same as locating sugar cane juice street vendors. The best place to go is wherever there is a crowd, particularly schools, universities, markets, around the parks…
Sâm bổ lượng (Cold Sweet Soup)
Sâm bổ lượng is originally a Cantonese dish but it has become so famous in Vietnam, using the same original ingredients that are also readily available in the country. The recipe may vary from city to city, but most often it contains dried longans, Job’s tears, thinly sliced seaweeds, water, sugar, and crushed iced. As this drink originally comes from China, obviously the best place to find it is the Chinese district of Saigon which is located in District 5 on Châu Văn Liêm street or Nguyễn Trãi street, and some street vendors on Hồ Thị Kỷ street and Sư Vạn Hạnh street in District 10.
Cà phê (Coffee)
Never leave Vietnam without trying their one-of-a-kind coffee. Vietnam is the world’s largest producer of Robusta beans. Coffee is served with a small metal drip filter over ice and condensed milk. The black one is called “cà phê đen đá” whereas the brown one (with condensed milk) is “cà phê sữa đá”. There are many places where you can find the best coffee around Vietnam or you can easily try to make your own. It is said that when it comes to local food and drink, you should go wherever the crowds is. For most young Saigonese, they usually get together at the corner of the park on Hàn Thuyên Street which is across from Notre Dame Cathedral (Nhà thờ Đức Bà), District 1.
Traveling to Vietnam is a feast of experiences, culture, sights and taste. One word of caution, most of these drinks are served with ice. Most experts will tell you to avoid taking anything with ice when in Southeast Asia, but today most of the ice served in restaurants and street stalls are manufactured using the safest standards. Most expats and foreigners living in Vietnam regularly have these drinks or indulge in the typical local way of drinking beer with ice, and do fine. To have a complete and thorough experience while visiting this country, try these unique drinks through a street-food tour with local guides that will drive you to the safest and tastiest spots/.
David Demartin is a Spanish expat living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The day he arrived to Vietnam, he knew he would not be going back to Europe. Passionate about all things Vietnamese, from food to martial arts, he loves to show the city he lives in to travelers that are interested in Vietnamese culture and ways of life. Read more about his experiences in Go Vietnam!