Stick this stuff in a can, carton, bottle or tetrapak on the streets of London, New York or Paris on a hot summer’s day and you’d make a bundle.
Mia da – raw sugarcane juice over ice (mia means sugarcane, da means ice) is a blindlingly refreshing drink. Sold all over Vietnam with nothing but a squeeze of lemon for an additive, I’m a regular quaffer whenever I’m sweating like a hog and in the vicinity of a stall or, in this case, doing the shopping on Ben Thanh market in the centre of Saigon.
There are 4 or 5 stalls selling mia da on Ben Thanh for 3,000VD a shot (US$1 = 15,700VD). The key is to make sure your drink is freshly squeezed by the electric mangle. Left lying around too long, sugarcane juice can go off, attract, flies, ants and anything else with a liking for sweet nectar. The cane is fed through the metal mangle lengthwise once and then folded over, with half a lemon placed inside the fold, and fed through once again.
The sugary juice floods into a waiting jug and then into your glass. Interestingly, at least I find it interesting, the mia da mangles in the north of Vietnam are nearly always of the manual variety. Hanoi’s bourgeois brothers and sisters in the south don’t mind splashing out on a bit of technology to speed the whole process along, or perhaps they’re just a bit lazier in the southern heat.
The drink must be served cold, hence the ice. Even though it is pure sugarcane you don’t have to be a diabetic to appreciate it. Surprisingly, it is not teeth-rottingly sweet, but cool, and invigorating. A real energiser for heat weary limbs. This stall not only sells mia da, but a whole range of other fruit drinks.
I’m a regular on Ben Thanh and with 48 stalls to choose from – selling soups, shellfish, noodles, spring rolls and scrummy desserts – you’ll be hearing a whole bunch more about this fab food zone in blog postings to come.