If Vietnamese food was to die for, Vietnamese drinks were not too far off either. We drank plenty, both as a means to cool down as well as for funsies. We made sure to take every opportunity to not only eat like a local, but to also drink like a local.
Brewed from coarsely ground dark roast coffee and filtered using a small French drip, Vietnamese coffee is one of Vietnam’s signature drinks, if not THE signature drink. The fun part was being able to brew and mix my own coffee instead of just being handed a cup. I was a bit of a newb, but the waitress patiently explained to me how it worked.
The coffee has only started filtering when it was placed in front of me. Hot water was dripping into the silver filter, through the compartment with ground coffee beans, then down through the filter holes into the cup below. I wanted condensed milk, which was already placed into the cup the coffee dripped into. All that was remaining was to pour the coffee into my glass of ice, stir, and enjoy!
Neither Carlos nor I are into coffee normally, but even non-coffee-lovers like us savored the beverage. Any coffee lovers could easily get addicted.
Thank you to our Hanoikids Tony and Jen for taking us to Giang Cafe, one of the oldest in Hanoi and a locals’ favorite, as we definitely would have had trouble finding it on our own. It was here that we tasted the legendary egg coffee. We were told that it was created by accident by a chef at Hanoi’s Sofitel Metropole (arguably the fanciest place to stay in Hanoi) when he ran out of milk or cream. So he adapted the recipe using egg whites, and it caught on!
No brewing necessary for this one, the coffee came ready in a hot water container to keep warm. I liked egg coffee more than regular Vietnamese coffee, if only because it was so unusual.
The egg neutralized the bitterness of the coffee, adding some creaminess… but in a light and fluffy way that’s different than milk or cream. I regret not going back to that cafe for another.
Fruit smoothies were to Vietnam what bubble teas were to Taiwan… though I guess not to the full extent. We didn’t have fruit smoothies constantly, but maybe one per day or every few days. They were pretty good. Always freshly made, and it didn’t even taste artificially sweetened, so hopefully they were healthy as well. We tried our best to go to reputable places that seemed clean such that they would use ice made with filtered water.
Bia Hoi (Draft Beers)
The jewel of Vietnam was Bia Hoi, brewed draft beer served on every street corner of Hanoi and throughout the country. Literally on the street with a few plastic chairs, vendors poured fresh Bia Hoi into glasses directly from barrels until they ran out. It seemed to be the fuel for the locals at night and soon it became ours too.
Bia Hoi is a very light lager, with only 3% alcohol and a refreshing taste that makes it go down smoothly. Combine that with its absurdly cheap price (only 15 cents for a 350ml glass), and it’s not hard to see why Bia Hoi is the beer of beers in Vietnam. We kind of blame Bia Hoi for ruining beers for us because from now on, whenever we have a beer, we’re going to think of how many glasses of Bia Hoi we could have had instead.
The best part of Bia Hoi is that it was a great way to meet and get to know other people. There was something so magical and enjoyable about how simple the setup was. We had genuine conversations with strangers, in ways that I probably don’t even have with some of my friends anymore. There was no loud music to scream over, no neon lights to squint through, no cellphones to distract us, no next appointment to rush to. There’s something to be said about how in our ever technological world, some of the most memorable human-human interactions I’ve had required only plastic chairs and a glass of beer.
There was no doubt that we drank as well as we ate in Vietnam. Both food and drinks-wise, Vietnam has only raised our standards and expectations for the many countries to come.