10 drinks you should not miss when coming to Vietnam

Nga Do
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. Vietnamese cuisine is world-famous, but few visitors to the Southeast Asian country think about what they'll 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.

1. 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.

2. Sinh Tố (Fruit smoothie)

Smoothies are everywhere in Vietnam, and we're not just talking strawberry-banana. You'll find smoothies with fresh dragonfruit, custard apple, and jackfruit, along with ice and condensed milk or yogurt. My husband always orders a sinh tố bơ (avocado smoothie). My favorite is the sinh tố mãng cầu (soursop smoothie), a refreshing sweet-and-tart treat made from a fruit that's native to South and Central America and popular in Southeast Asia for a creamy flavor reminiscent of both strawberries and pineapples.

3. 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, etc.

4. Nước Sâm (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 nước sâm recipe contains sugar cane, nettle leaves, grass roots and corn silk—an illustration of the Vietnamese aversion to wasting anything. Variations of this drink can also include dried longan, the flower of the sawtooth herb (also known as spiky coriander/cilantro), and roasted water chestnuts.

5. 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.

6. Cà Phê (Coffee)

Vietnam is the world's biggest producer of Robusta coffee, a variety of bean that most coffee 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 coffee is prepared using a small metal drip filter, and is most commonly served over ice. You can't walk a block of any street in the country and not see someone enjoying a coffee in one form or another.

The two most popular ways to drink local coffee are cà phê sữa đá (iced coffee with condensed milk) or cà phê đá (iced black coffee). Note that unless you specifically request "không đường" (no sugar) or "ít đường" (a little sugar), the black version will come with four or five teaspoons.

You can also get your caffeine fix with a yogurt coffee or the Hanoian specialty, egg coffee, made with whipped egg yolk. These caffeinated wonders are so delicious it's easy 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 often served alongside it. Having a coffee is an excuse to sit and watch the world go by, either from a small chair at a streetside stall or from the window of a blessedly air-conditioned cafe.

7. 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.

8. Soda Chanh (Lime soda)

Soda chanh hits the spot on a steamy day: essentially, it's a fizzy homemade limeade that's usually served partially prepared. You're served a glass full of ice with sugar and sometimes lime juice in the bottom, with the can of club soda on the side. Sometimes you're given a glass of ice and sugar and a little dish of lime wedges so you can squeeze your own juice into the glass. I order soda chanh "không đường" (no sugar) or "ít đường" (a little sugar) because the standard serve has a lot of sugar— so much that it can block the straw if you don't mix the drink before taking a sip.

9. Trà Atiso (Artichoce Tea)

The go-to drink for hungover Vietnamese men, trà atisô is believed to have liver-cleansing and detoxifying properties. There are two versions 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.

10. Bia (Beer)

Beer is one of the exceptions to the rule that drinks aren't served with food in Vietnam. In Vietnamese, the phrase "di nhau" means "to go drinking." But the term refers to much more than just the drinks; there's a whole range of tapas-style dishes that accompany a Vietnamese drinking session, such as prawns barbecued with chili and salt, clams steamed with lemongrass, green mango with a prawn-chili-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 Imperial capital, and Denmark), and Bia La Rue, a slightly 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 (at the junction of Luong Ngoc Quyen, Ta Hien and Dinh Liet) to try bia hơi (fresh beer), a low-alcohol draft beer with a clean, crisp taste.

Of course, the locals don't always choose the local brew. Holland's Heineken, Singapore's Tiger Beer, and Japan's Sapporo are also popular, and there's an increasing number of microbreweries producing a range of craft beers. Brewpubs in Vietnam usually serve Eastern European fare, such as sausages and sauerkraut, which is eaten local-style: with chopsticks.

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