Don’t Miss These Drinks When You’re in Vietnam!
When you find any country where the two drinks you love most in life are both of terrific quality and amazingly cheap it’s worth whetting your whistle.
With one just beverage bias to satisfy it’s easy. Think Mexico and tequila or wine and France or India and tea. But to get lucky with two luscious liquids is rarer.
A few sad individuals might dream of Scotland and its whisky and Irn-Bru the national and distinctive soft drink. But my two keys are coffee and beer and I need them both strong-tasting and dark.
It’s been 25 years since I’d last been to Vietnam and my memories were of a fairly dour place with pretty indifferent coffee and a very bland lager called 333.
The food and the people were as terrific then as they are now but the cafes and bars, where most travellers like to spend time, were nothing special.
But on a return visit in May of the many spectacular changes, which have erupted with economic liberalisation in the 1990s, the most surprising and enjoyable involved glasses of both coffee and beer.
My day always starts with coffee and Vietnam is now the second largest grower and exporter in the world after Brazil.
They were traditionally a tea-drinking nation, but the French colonial influence and their own strong culture has developed not only strange-looking coffees to Western tastes but also interesting ways of making them.
You’ll get coffee served on a bed of ice, hot or cold with condensed milk and even made with an egg. There’s also coffee with coconut milk and for special occasions beans fed to and excreted by civets which they call weasel.
Perhaps like Irn-Bru it’s an acquired taste.
You’ll find coffee shops everywhere with local versions selling for about a dollar and perfectly acceptable cappuccinos available too.
But not everyone has an espresso machine or may not be up to Melbourne barista standards. Never fear there’s the local low-tech filter system called the Phin.
It involves a filter chamber, filter press, cup spanner, and cap and 4-5 minutes for the slow and strong drips to gather in the glass below. The taste is surprisingly intense and satisfying and leaves any other filter system for dead. A great souvenir to bring home.
As the day draws to a close in Asia a beer rarely goes amiss. Hanoi has some of the world’s cheapest and best.
Sold in the streets for about 50 cents a cold plastic cup is a local draft beer called Bia Hoi made daily with no preservatives and a low 3% alcohol content.
A nice starter to the evening to be followed up by some wonderful beers from the nation’s energetic micro-brewery scene. Hanoi is full of craft beer bars but my first encounter with this admirable product was further south.
I’d spotted somewhere boasting craft beer near our hotel in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and despite low expectations had to check it out.
Imagine the surprise at finding dozens of taps of many impressive and varied styles and even more bottles and cans. And the place was packed with young locals obviously enjoying the produce.
I’d always equated strong hoppy India Pale Ales with being brewed in cooler climates, but the Vietnamese proved they can match the best of their counterparts overseas.
There are also styles you might not find elsewhere such as the pictured Furbrew’s bottle of green mango and chilli ‘saison’ a rather sour beer!
It might only be a matter of time before there are beer tourists checking out what’s on offer around this remarkable country the way they currently drink themselves around better-known beer powerhouses.
There is of course much more to a holiday in Vietnam than cheap, cheerful and very creditable coffee and beer but in my language that’s a pretty good start.