Drink stall in District 1, Saigon. That wall needs a good lick of paint, no?
These stalls seem to sprout all over town soon after lunchtime. Stallfront is normally lined with small beakers full of black liquid, but for some reason this seller just has the one on display. He sells ‘medicinal’ iced drinks. What goes into the drinks I’m not entirely sure, but I think we’re talking Chinese herbs, ginseng and the like. I find this seller along Dinh Cong Trang street very near the ‘famous’ Banh xeo restaurant. For no reason I can think of, this is the first time I’ve ever stopped by one of these stalls. The seller gives me a glass of… errr… something. I didn’t catch the
name, but what I do know is that it costs 1,500VD. Ever so slightly
spicy and sweet – but not uncomfortably so – and really rather
refreshing. Very pleasant indeed.
I think it’s suppposed to be healthy, but I have no idea why or exactly what’s in it that is giving off the health vibes. However, within hours of drinking this I was overcome with the urge to take a Mensa test. Interestingly I learned that I am a genius. For control purposes, I decided to retake the test this morning ‘straight’. It was something of a relief to learn that I am once again thick as shit. Still, this is another star street drink find. One which might just increase your brainpower for a few hours. Useful to know if your stuck on The Times Crossword or your two-year old son asks you to explain the effect of nanotechnology on Moore’s Law. You’d be surprised how often that question comes up. More snaps.
UPDATE: Avid reader emem tells me that the phone numbers on the wall behind this stall illegally advertise the services of concrete cutters. More here.
I find this stall at 248 Hai Ba Trung street in District 1 just up the road from the Banh xeo restaurant and opposite a pink church. Let me just repeat that for the hard of hearing and/or disbelieving – that’s not slate grey or brick dust brown but a cheery pink church. The lady running this snazzy wooden mobile stall sells cock tai. No – that’s nothing to do with fowl, nor sex, nor cocktails a la uberwhackjob Tom Cruise. Well it nearly is, but it won’t get you drunk or turn you into a gibbering scientologist. Cock tai is an iced fruit drink/dessert hybrid. Kinda like a Saigonese Slush Puppy.
This stall owner uses an ingenious handcrafted ice shaving device to fashion a glass full of ice. Download the movie to see the Saigon ice shaving action from this stall. Her younger assistant splashes on a dose of neon red sickly sweet syrup and you choose what you want from the dried fruit selection stored in the jars at the front of the stall. There’s pineapple, jackfruit, banana, some wee sour prune type things (I think) and a number of other fruitarian delights I don’t know the name of.
You can choose to sit at the usual Gulliver’s kingdom table and chairs down a small alleyway behind the stall and sip as you marvel at the pink church opposite. That’s right, did I mention that there’s a pink church on Hai Ba Trung Street? The church matches the colour of the takeaway cock tai pictured above. This is the first time I’ve tried cock tai, and I’m not that impressed. It’s’ not terrible, it’s just cold, very cold. And it’s sweet, very sweet. That’s about it. Nothing wrong with that, just not my bag that’s all. There are a few more photographs from this stall on flickr.
Squashed between a Japanese restaurant and a MoneyGram bureau and opposite the Bong Sen Hotel at the river end of Hai Ba Trung street in District 1 is a piddly little alleyway. Pop your snout up this slimline passage and more often than not you’ll find it chokka with Mai Linh taxi company drivers at the end of their shift. Mai Linh’s main office is a hop and a buttscratch away up the road. The alleyway is easy to miss, and I’ll be honest with you, your life isn’t gonna
change if you do miss it. This is just one example of the many street side
beverage outlets in Saigon.
The manageress/waitress and chef all rolled into one fortysomething bundle tells me she has been quenching the Saigonese thirst from this spot for well over ten years. It’s not chic, but it’s quiet and handy for the centre of town. Pull up a dwarf friendly plastic stool and grab a cafe sua da (iced coffee), sinh to (fruit shake), tra da (iced tea), dua tuoi (coconut) or a canned drink. All cost a shade less than bugger all.
I grab a quick coffee with a tra da chaser for 5,000VD. Iced tea in Vietnam is normally either a Lotus or Jasmine concoction. During the killer heat we’re experiencing around midday at the moment, a glass of this chilled nectar is thirstmungussly good. Score the exact same beverage combo in the nearby Caravelle or Sheraton hotels and you’ll be lucky if you find yourself left with much more than a nat’s pimple from 90,000VD.
This is the 200th iced drink I’ve downed on the streets of Saigon since 2001. It’s Cafe sua da – coffee, sweetened milk, ice. I found it on Thai Van Lung Street in District 1 and it set me back 4,000VD, or around 25 cents.
In 2001 I began cataloguing my street ice intake, anorak fashion. The aim – to provide the first ever scientific proof that every health and hygiene advisory published in a Vietnam guidebook since 2001 was plain barking, cuckoo, woo wah, woo wah.
Freaking folk out over frozen tipples would at last be a thing of the past and Vietnam’s ice capitalists could bury their bad rep. and concentrate on cooling palates without foreign media muddying everyone’s pants with paranoid poop.
Well, the results are in.
Contrary to popular belief, it appears street ice is actually rather good for you. 0.05% of post-ice movements "noticeably veered from the norm". No shit.
This important first study of its kind concludes; the all important "ice to loose movements" ratio is negligible at worst, positively non-existent at best. And if you don’t believe me, I have a double quilted, aloe vera scented spreadsheet smeared with 4 years worth of data which you’re welcome to unroll and analyse at your leisure.
I ummed and arrrgghhhed about whether to stuff this in the drinks section or the desserts. It’s probably more drink than dessert, but what the hell, it’s in both. This is Me da (Tamarind drink) and it’s the first time I’ve ever tried it. I’ll come clean here and admit, I ordered a Mia da and got this instead which got me thinking – there’s a lot to be said for messing up your vowels and tones if what you end up with is not what you wanted but exceeds what it was you thought you really wanted in the first place. D’ya follow? This is the only drink/dessert hybrid I’ve come across with peanuts atop crushed ice. I blame a sheltered life for that glaring omission.
The tamarind is a sugarred up tease. Tart and hellish sweet. It’ll cost you 4,000VD. When you approach the bottom of your glass you’ll be given an iced tea to help scrape the Tate & Lyle from your enamel. Be careful, Tamarind will make you ‘go’.
I found this glass at 25/87 Nguyen Binh Khiem Street in District 1. Not
far from Saigon zoo. I’ll certainly have more of this if it’s a
concentrated blast of three days intake of sugar I’m after. And/or I need some ‘help’. I’m
This is one of two stalls flogging Che (Sweet desserts) and tipples on the local market. From her front of house scoffstall, with its array of large stainless steel bowls, she does a very brisk takeaway trade. To her right she has a selection of pre-prepared bags. The white ones are sweetened coconut milk, the black chaps are Nuoc dau den (Black bean juice). She also has bags of Che ready to go. What’s handy with stalls like this is you can order what you want and go scoff someplace else (say, the Bun thit nuong stall for example) and she’ll deliver the goods to you.
We’ve ploughed a path though several other Vietnamese streets drinks over the months and I’ve tried many more non-blogged ones, but I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that this is the first time I’ve ever tried the excellent Nuoc dau den. From what I can gather it’s just black bean juice, water and sugar. Earthy, refreshing and a thirst slakin’ must try, I’d say. And at 1000VD for each healthy slug, you’d be a fool not to. I lurvvve my Mia da and Rau ma, but this is a great new addition to the hot weather slurp list. I’ll certainly be back for more of this.
After the kimchi bug finally flushed its last, I was back on the streets last Friday and heading into Chinatown to Cho Lon post office again for another parcel pick-up. During my last visit this way, the post office staff suggested I hit their local pho joint. This time around I took matters into my own hands at a line of three stalls, huddled next to each other just over the road from the main entrance to the post office. There were three options, all of which I have blogged up before; Banh xeo, Mia da and Banh mi. The Banh mi stall is missing in the shot above as the rains arrived mid-mastication and she was first to jump ship and save her soggy bread.
Actually, I haven’t blogged up this banh mi rendition before. This is Banh mi op la, it’s as simple as it gets. Basically an egg sarnie (or baguette) nothing more, nothing less. It’s solid breakfast grub. The seller, who speaks decent English, will give you the option of one or two fried eggs. I opted for the one egg number as my stomach was already rumbling at the sight of Mrs. Pancake’s Banh xeo a couple of stalls up. Even with the ongoing bird flu paranoia in Vietnam, I find Vietnamese eggs are a mighty tasty feed. A couple of these sarnies could well sort you out at breakfast with little need for any additional tucker. But, one’s enough today, however I’m still peckish and I have a blog to feed. So, moving on…
I swilled the egg butty down with a cool glass of Mia da. There’s nothing much new to say about this that I haven’t mentioned before – it’s still an excellent sugarcane thirst quencher and I have it at least once a week. With the wind picking up, I was eager to sample the streetside Banh xeo before rain stopped play. It certainly looked like quality street nosh; clean leaves, attractive looking nuoc mam (fish sauce) with thin strips of carrot and chilli and then there’s the large beansprout, pork and prawn filled wafer thin Banh xeo. This is a solid workmanlike rendition, way better than the one I had at Ben Thanh night market, but not up to the standard of Saigon’s premier Banh xeo haunt. The main criticisms being this Chinatown chick chucks too much chili into her nuoc mam and edges her pancake a little too firmly into grease territory for my delicate waistline. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the Banh xeo banter that ensued at these stalls and I’ll be back.
Despite the rain, this stall holder was doing a stonking takeaway/office delivery trade from her one burner stall. Above you can see a tray set for several diners just waiting on the pancakes to arrive piping fresh from the pavement level pan. She also sells Hu Tieu (Pork noodle soup). As for the bill, hold onto your hats: Banh mi op la – 3,000VD, Mia da – 2,000VD, Banh xeo – 6,000VD. That’s an 11,000VD street stuffing or 70 US cents, 38 British pence or, for readers in Greenland, that’s 4.3 Greenland Krone. Bargainsville Chinatown champs. Yum.
Vietnam is a great place for a cup of coffee, if you wanna dice with decapitation. The Trung Nguyen coffee shop chain serves a killer cup of caffeine called Weasel coffee. I haven’t indulged so far, but (so the story goes) each bean is consumed and excreted by weasels, or Civet cats to be more precise, before being ground, mixed with boiling water and poured into your cup. Some sellers believe the story, other folk are more sceptical. (Hmmm… every single bean… excreted…???) Vietnamese coffee is invariably a chocolatey, Mocha heavy brew, almost always made from low quality Robusta beans grown in Buon Ma Thuot in the Central Highlands. The bean is more robust than the Arabica plants (hence the name), but produces an “inferior tasting beverage with a higher caffeine content.”
Fortunately, the Vietnamese have a nifty way of turning a bad cup of coffee into a good one – at least for sugarfiends. Cafe sua da (Iced coffee w. milk) is a winner. No common or garden cow juice used here though, only sweetened condensed milk. You stir the sticky dollop of milk in with the coffee to produce a high-sugar, high-caffeine, ice cool tipple that will have you apoplectic for the rest of the day and your dentist seething. Feeling adventurous? learn to make Cafe sua da ice cream here.