Saigon's Special Drinks
A man is not a camel, so it's lucky that Saigon is one city where an oasis is easily found
For the most part, Vietnam is a hot, humid and very tropical country. Youâll sweat a lot when youâre here and this is why itâs absolutely essential to keep your body hydrated. Water will do the trick just nicely - itâs the most perfect drink for us and youâll find it for sale almost everywhere beside a selection of Coke, Fanta and other familiar fizzy stuff.
Perhaps youâd fancy a fresh coconut instead? Or a glass of world famous ice tea or coffee? While these would also do the job, other more unique and arguably tastier thirst quenchers arenât exactly hard to come by here. Firstly, before you pop open that bottle of 7up, Iâd love to introduce you to a few of the local and extra special brews, always cool and cheap: priced between 5 - 10,000VND a glass/bottle. (USD $0.20-$0.45)
Found at the entry to every second alley, or so it seems, itâs the best all natural energy drink that youâll find. Keep an eye out for the small alloy cart with a large, iconic and galleon-like wheel that hangs off the side. Once the wheel starts spinning, the attendant will carefully feed the rollers with short lengths of cut and pre-peeled sugar cane. After crushing every last drop of juice out of the sugar cane stick, only dry pulp is left at the end. The seller may then add lime, extra sugar, salt or anything else he or she believes to be a good match for the juice on that particular day. Served in a glass heaped with ice, itâs super revitalizing as well as being deliciously cheap and readily available - particularly in the southern cities.
âNha Äamâ â
What canât Aloe Vera do? Itâs used in makeup, wet-tissues, moisturizers and soaps, shaving cream, hair products and countless other goods in our consumer world. For a long time itâs also been widely used in traditional medicine and as a natural remedy for sunburn and other skin diseases or irritations. In some parts of the world itâs even eaten, or drank, and a cool bottle of Vietnamese âNha damâ (Aloe vera drink) shouldnât be missed. Being a much healthier alternative to other sugary drinks it has an added bonus of being super tasty too! Clear in color, itâs taste is subtly sweet, while the chewy cubes of floating aloe help make it a firm favorite of travellers to Vietnam.
âSÃ¢m láº¡nhâ â
One of the more special drinks youâll come across in Vietnam, there are several varieties but the most common types sold on the streets are âBong Cucâ, which is prepared from daisy flowers. Other varieties include âLinh Chiâ which is made from mushrooms and âNuoc Dangâ which translates to âbitter drinkâ. They all belong to the âSam Lanhâ family and while they can look a little like dirty tap water, they can have some of the sweetest, smokiest, and most bitter flavors you'll taste creating a very unique drop! Generally known to be good for your health, itâs usually served in a bottle from the icy depths of a sidewalk sellerâs chiller box though at some busy roadside stalls, itâll be served to you in a glass filled with ice.
This tasty number comes with the help from one of manâs best natural resources. Coconuts! Always served fresh to order in a glass heaped with ice, as is the norm in these parts, âDua Tacâ is a firm favorite among locals. Not as easily found as the other drinks mentioned, places that sell this are usually quite busy and doing very good trade. Coconut water, shavings of fresh coconut, sugar and lime are combined to create a sweet, sour and very filling drink. Many foreigners who come to Vietnam love coconut water but the thought of drinking an entire fresh one is a bit too much - âDua Tacâ is precisely what you need to look for and the best place is just outside alley 256 on Pasteur St, District 3. (Click here for a map)
For any of you that have ruled out vegetable juice in the past â wait! Donât deny the super healthy drink until youâve had a glass of âRau Maâ. The name directly translates to âmotherâs vegetableâ but in English would refer to it as âPennywort Juiceâ. Commonly mixed with either sweet green bean paste or coconut water, itâs not everyoneâs cup of tea (no pun intended) but itâs worth a try - itâll surely open up your taste buds to a new kind of flavor.
This drink happens to be a little bit more pricy than the previous drinks listed, but itâs worth the extra few dong! âPomelo Juiceâ is not exactly a rarity here but itâs always hard to find when you want it! Made from the biggest fruit in the citrus family, it can be beautifully bitter though a little sugar can be added for a sweeter taste. Keep an eye out for the large red chiller in local markets or stacked outside the occasional roadside shop front. For the record and to progress your Vietnamese language, the word âÃ©pâ means juice.
A footnote for all of the cautious travellers out there: Ice in Vietnam is safe to drink. Ignore what your doctor says back home - in regards to this anyhow. In several years Iâve yet to know anyone, be it local or foreign, who have experienced any kind of health problems due to either drinking or eating the ice here. Soâ¦ do as the locals do and drink your drinks with as much cold ice as you can fit in the glass!