Discover the Exquisite Flavors of Vietnamese Drinks

by Huy Huỳnh Ngọc

Vietnamese cuisine is renowned worldwide, but what many travelers overlook is the equally diverse and delightful world of Vietnamese drinks. From refreshing beverages to traditional spirits, Vietnam offers a unique and vibrant drinking culture that is as enticing as its culinary scene. Whether you’re strolling through the bustling streets of Hanoi or exploring the vibrant markets of Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll find an array of beverages that showcase the country’s rich history, cultural influences, and natural abundance. Join Palm Vietnam Travel on a journey through the must-try Vietnamese drinks that will tantalize your taste buds and quench your thirst for adventure.

A Cultural Perspective: The Role of Drinks in Vietnamese Society

In Vietnamese culture, drinking is often seen as a separate event from dining. While meals are typically centered around soups or include soup as a finishing touch, enjoying a drink is considered a distinct and special occasion.

Whether it’s meeting friends for a coffee or stopping by a street-side stand for fresh juice, Vietnamese people value the experience of sipping on their favorite beverages. However, it’s important to note that for some, drinking sessions are dedicated to indulging in alcoholic beverages, with food serving as a complementary accompaniment.

A few beers after a long time without seeing your friends.

Ice: Safe and Essential

Before we delve into the world of Vietnamese drinks, it’s worth addressing a common concern for travelers: ice. While guidebooks often advise caution when consuming ice in Southeast Asia, Vietnam stands apart.

The ice in Vietnam is generally safe to consume, thanks to the legacy of French rule, which introduced large-scale ice production using filtered water and hygienic packaging. When served ice with a hole in it, you can be confident that it was made by a machine and is unlikely to pose any health risks.

However, it’s advisable to exercise caution when consuming crushed ice, as it is usually prepared by hand, potentially compromising hygiene. If you have a sensitive stomach or are new to international travel, it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid crushed ice.

1. Dừa Tươi (Fresh Coconut) – A Tropical Delight

One of Vietnam’s most beloved and iconic drinks is Dừa Tươi or fresh coconut water. While coconut water has gained popularity in recent years, it has been a favorite beverage in Vietnam for centuries. Unlike the packaged versions found in grocery stores, in Vietnam, you’ll enjoy it straight from the coconut itself.

The experience is incomparable, as the coconut water is grassier, sweeter, and more flavorful than anything you’ll find in a package. To savor this refreshing drink, vendors chop off the outer green husk of a coconut and keep the small white inner shell, which is cut into a shape that won’t topple over when placed on a flat surface.

These coconuts are kept on ice until you order one, at which point a giant machete is skillfully employed to create a hole in the top. It’s important to note that the smaller coconuts tend to be sweeter than the larger ones. To ensure the best flavor, coconuts are typically harvested when they’re around seven weeks old. If harvested too early, the juice may taste gassy, while older coconuts can become excessively salty.

The readiness of a coconut is determined by inspecting the jelly-like flesh, which should be translucent but not completely transparent. Hard white flesh indicates that the fruit is too mature for drinking. Locals often advise against consuming coconut water after 5 p.m., as they believe it has diuretic properties that may disturb sleep. However, before 5 p.m., it’s the go-to beverage for rehydration in Vietnam’s tropical climate.

The excellent beverage is very beneficial for human health.

2. Sinh Tố (Fruit Smoothie) – A Symphony of Flavors

Vietnam is a treasure trove of tropical fruits, and there’s no better way to experience their vibrant flavors than through a Sinh Tố, or fruit smoothie. While strawberry-banana smoothies are popular worldwide, Vietnam takes this beverage to a whole new level.

You’ll find an astonishing variety of smoothies made with fresh dragonfruit, custard apple, jackfruit, and many other tropical fruits. These delectable concoctions are blended with ice and often mixed with condensed milk or yogurt for added creaminess. Every sip is a burst of tropical goodness, offering a refreshing and revitalizing treat. For those seeking a unique twist, the sinh tố bơ (avocado smoothie) is a favorite among locals.

Its rich and creamy texture is simply irresistible. Another must-try is the sinh tố mãng cầu (soursop smoothie), made from a fruit native to South and Central America but popular throughout Southeast Asia. Its sweet and tart flavors create a delightful balance, reminiscent of strawberries and pineapples. Whether you gravitate towards familiar fruits or are eager to explore new flavors, Vietnamese fruit smoothies are sure to leave you craving more.

Smoothies are made from a variety of tropical fruits.
Delicious and nutritious beverages for all ages.

3. Nước Sâm (Herbal Tea) – Cooling and Nourishing

Escape the heat and chaos of a Vietnamese wet market with a refreshing glass of Nước Sâm, or herbal tea. Known for its “cooling” properties according to Chinese medicine, this sweet and nutty beverage is the perfect companion on a steamy day. The basic recipe typically includes sugar cane, nettle leaves, grassroots, and corn silk.

However, don’t be surprised to find variations that incorporate dried longan, the flower of the sawtooth herb (also known as spiky coriander/cilantro), or roasted water chestnuts. Nước Sâm exemplifies the Vietnamese aversion to wasting any part of an ingredient, as it makes use of various elements to create a truly unique flavor profile. Served over ice, this herbal tea is a delightful respite from the heat, offering a moment of tranquility amidst the bustling market atmosphere.

Relieve the heat with a refreshing cold ginseng drink.

4. Nước Mía (Sugar Cane Juice) – A Refreshing Grassiness

If you’re in need of a cooling and revitalizing drink on a hot day, look no further than Nước Mía, or sugar cane juice. Don’t let the name fool you – this beverage is far from sickly sweet. Sold by street vendors, sugar cane juice is extracted by electric squashing machines that resemble old-fashioned wringers.

The juice is then mixed with calamansi juice, a tiny sour citrus fruit with a delightful mandarin-like aroma. The result is a crisp and grassy elixir that provides instant refreshment. When searching for a sugar cane vendor, keep an eye out for a bucket of sugar cane stalks displayed prominently in front of the stall.

You may also notice what looks like a ship’s wheel on the side of the stall, a part of the electric wringer mechanism that efficiently juices the sugar cane before your eyes. Immerse yourself in the vibrant street culture of Vietnam as you sip on this invigorating drink.

Beverage sourced entirely from nature.
A refreshing, tasty, nutritious, and affordable beverage.

5. Trà Atisô (Artichoke Tea) – A Detoxifying Brew

If you’re in need of a remedy after a night of indulgence, look no further than trà atisô, or artichoke tea. Believed to possess liver-cleansing and detoxifying properties, this tea is a popular choice among hungover Vietnamese men.

There are two versions of trà atisô: a sweetened yellowish version made from the artichoke flower and an intensely bitter black version made from the artichoke stems. While some may prefer the black tea, we recommend opting for the sweetened version, which boasts a delicate nutty flavor.

Artichokes are grown in Dalat, Vietnam’s cool Central Highlands, but you can find packets of artichoke tea in supermarkets throughout the country. Indulge in this revitalizing beverage and embark on a journey to restore balance and well-being.

A popular choice among Vietnamese men after heavy drinking nights.

6. Soda Chanh (Lime Soda) – An Effervescent Delight

Quench your thirst on a steamy day with a glass of soda chanh, or lime soda. This fizzy homemade limeade is the perfect antidote to Vietnam’s tropical climate.

When served, you’ll receive a glass filled with ice and sugar, with a can of club soda on the side. Some establishments may provide a glass of ice, sugar, and a dish of lime wedges, allowing you to customize the sweetness and citrusy tang to your liking. If you prefer less sugar, be sure to specify “không đường” (no sugar) or “ít đường” (a little sugar).

The standard serving tends to be quite sweet, and if not mixed properly, it can block the straw. Allow the effervescence and citrusy zing of soda chanh to invigorate your senses and provide a moment of refreshment.

7. Bia (Beer) – A Toast to Vietnamese Hospitality

Vietnamese drinking culture is incomplete without mentioning bia, or beer. Unlike the general rule of not serving drinks with food in Vietnam, bia is an exception. The phrase “di nhau” translates to “to go drinking” in Vietnamese, but it encompasses much more than just the beverages themselves.

In Vietnam, drinking is a social activity that often involves a range of tapas-style dishes, 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. When it comes to beer, Vietnam offers a wide array of choices that vary by region. In Ho Chi Minh City, you can enjoy Saigon Red, Saigon Special, and 333, which are lightly hopped and slightly sweeter than beers from other parts of the country.

In central Vietnam, Huda and Bia La Rue are popular local brews, each with its distinctive characteristics. A visit to Hanoi is incomplete without a pilgrimage to Bia Hoi Corner, where you can savor bia hơi, a low-alcohol draft beer known for its clean and crisp taste. While Vietnamese beers dominate the market, international brands like Heineken, Tiger Beer, and Sapporo are also popular.

The rise of microbreweries has further expanded the beer scene, offering a range of craft beers with unique flavors. Brewpubs in Vietnam often serve Eastern European fare, adding a delightful twist to your beer-drinking experience. Raise a glass, say “Mot – Hai – Ba – Dzo!” (1 – 2 – 3 – Cheers!), and immerse yourself in the conviviality of Vietnamese drinking culture.

An essential drink for drinking sessions.
The go-to thirst-quencher for most guys after exhausting football matches.

8. Rượu Nếp Cẩm (Sticky Rice Wine) – A Toast to Tradition

For those seeking a taste of Vietnamese tradition, Rượu Nếp Cẩm, or sticky rice wine, is a must-try. Drinking rice wine is primarily associated with men in Vietnamese culture, and it often serves as a social activity.

Friends gather to share a communal shot glass or two, accompanied by a range of delectable snacks. Sticky rice wine offers a smoother and sweeter alternative to regular rice wine, which can be quite potent.

It’s important not to confuse sticky rice wine with rượu thuốc, or “medicine wine,” which is rice wine infused with various medicinal ingredients, including cobras, seahorses, and herbs. Whether you’re savoring the traditional masculine tipple or exploring the diverse flavors of Vietnam’s spirits, rice wine is an integral part of the country’s drinking culture.

Sticky rice wine.

9. Cà Phê (Coffee) – A Rich and Aromatic Journey

No exploration of Vietnamese drinks would be complete without indulging in the country’s iconic coffee culture. As the world’s largest producer of Robusta coffee, Vietnam has crafted its unique approach to this beloved beverage. Vietnamese coffee beans are roasted with butter and fish sauce, creating a distinctive flavor profile with hints of chocolate.

The most common way to enjoy Vietnamese coffee is as cà phê sữa đá, or iced coffee with condensed milk. Alternatively, you can opt for cà phê đá, an iced black coffee. If you prefer your coffee with a twist, explore the delights of yogurt coffee or the Hanoian specialty, egg coffee, made with whipped egg yolk.

Vietnamese coffee is typically prepared using a small metal drip filter, providing a rich and robust brew. Whether you’re sitting at a small chair in a streetside stall or enjoying the view from a cozy cafe, savor the aromatic wonders of Vietnamese coffee and embrace the leisurely pace of life.

Vietnamese coffee ranks among the top 8 best-tasting coffees in the world.
Egg coffee, is a must-try beverage when visiting Vietnam.

Embrace the Vibrant World of Vietnamese Drinks

Vietnam’s diverse and flavorful drinks offer a captivating glimpse into the country’s rich history, cultural influences, and natural bounty. From the refreshing Dừa Tươi to the invigorating Nước Mía, each beverage tells its unique story and provides a sensory adventure. As you explore the bustling streets, vibrant markets, and welcoming cafes of Vietnam, be sure to immerse yourself in the world of Vietnamese drinks. Indulge in the delightful flavors, savor the cultural traditions, and create lasting memories as you embark on a truly authentic and unforgettable journey. Cheers to the vibrant tapestry of Vietnamese drinks!

Huy Huỳnh Ngọc

Written by Huy Huỳnh Ngọc