Saigon's many ways to sip through summer

By Phuc Trinh   April 2, 2023 | 01:30 am PT
One of the best ways to beat the heat in Saigon is to indulge in ice-cold sweet summer beverages. Here are some of the southern metropolis' best ways to cool down.

Nuoc sam - Herbal tea

Herbal tea is a popular drink that can be easily found in Saigon. This black-colored drink is inspired by Chinese medicine and is typically poured over ice, without sugar. According to Chinese medicine, it is considered a tonic with "cooling" and restorative qualities.

Nuoc sam can be pale or dark brown in hue. Photo by VnExpress

Nuoc sam can be pale or dark brown in hue. Photo by VnExpress

This herbal tea is nutritious because it contains up to 24 various herbal plants. Sugar cane, nettle leaves, grass roots, and corn silk make up the most basic nuoc sam. This drink can also be made with dried longan, liquorice, coriander, and roasted water chestnuts. The herbal tea has a fresh and sweet flavor that is mildly fragrant, making it ideal for cooling down on a sweltering day. While some people enjoy this bitter-flavored botanical drink, others prefer to sweeten it with a little sugar. Some locations sell big bottles which you can keep in the fridge to enjoy throughout Saigon's hot days at home.

Nuoc mia - Sugarcane juice

Another favorite local refreshment used to cool off on a hot summer day is sugarcane juice. The majority of sugarcane juice booths are unnamed and can be found on most small streets' side. You may notice vendors using an electric sugarcane crushing machine to squeeze the juice from stalks of sugarcane. It is a natural beverage that is delicious, inexpensive, and widely consumed in Saigon.

Photo by VnExpress

Glasses of sugarcane juice on ice at a Saigon streetside stall. Photo by VnExpress

The drink has a crisp grassy taste that is not as overly sweet as you might anticipate. The vendor frequently adds kumquat or citrus to improve the original flavor and decrease the sweetness of sugarcane. You can also find other varieties of sugarcane juice at newer sugarcane shops, such as sugarcane mixed with durian, or shredded coconut meat with a tablespoon of mung bean paste.

Fruit juice and smoothies

Fresh juice and smoothies are sold everywhere in Vietnam, from tiny sellers in your area to juice stores on major roadways. The fruit selection is always fresh and varied in Saigon, with some fruits found only in Southeast Asia. Try citrus, guava, pear, or watermelon juice instead of just apple or orange juice to get a sense of how fresh and delicious these rarer tropical fruits are.

A Vietnamese smoothie includes fruit mixed with condensed milk and ice. Photo by VnExpress/Phong Vinh

A Vietnamese smoothie includes fruit mixed with condensed milk and ice. Photo by VnExpress/Phong Vinh

Not only is the juice delectable, but so are the smoothies. Vietnamese smoothies are prepared with real fruit rather than fruit puree, and are combined with sweet condensed milk and loads of ice. The fruit combos are incredible, as some of these fruits are difficult to find in North America or Europe. An avocado and mango smoothie is sweet and creamy with an alluring scent of mango, whereas soursop smoothie is a delightfully tart delicacy.

Tra tac - Kumquat tea

Tra tac (kumquat tea) is a refreshing drink popular in Saigon. If tra chanh (lime tea) is a popular drink in Hanoi, then in Saigon, it is kumquat tea that has won the soul of the city. You can find it at many street stalls, cafes, and restaurants around the city. It is a popular drink, especially in the summer when the weather is hot and humid. Kumquat tea is made from fresh kumquats, a type of citrus fruit that has a sweet and sour taste, and sugar or honey. It is served over lots of ice.

Kumquat is the key ingredient of tra tac. Photo by VnExpress

Kumquat is the key ingredient of tra tac. Photo by VnExpress

The drink combines sweet and sour flavors to produce a refreshing sensation in your mouth. The tangy and citrus taste of kumquat juice is comparable to that of orange or lemon, but more intense and aromatic. Some people add salted dried plums, known as xi muoi, to improve the taste and temper the sweetness. Xi muoi is a typical Vietnamese snack prepared from a variety of fruits preserved with salt, sugar, and spices. This refreshing kumquat tea can awaken your senses and leave you feeling rejuvenated and energized.

Dua tac - Coconut juice with kumquat

Dua tac, a drink that mixes coconut juice and kumquat, is one of the most refreshing beverages that you can find in this bustling city. Because of its low cost and delicious flavor, it is an extremely popular drink. Most vendors will chop the coconut on the spot and serve you the refreshment immediately by dumping the water from the middle of the coconut over ice and adding fresh coconut meat.

Coconut flesh is added to a glass of dua tac for extra flavor. Photo by VnExpress/Ha Yumy

Coconut flesh is added to glasses of dua tac for extra flavor. Photo by VnExpress/Ha Yumy

Dua tac is prepared by combining fresh coconut water, kumquat juice, sugar, and occasionally pandan leaves for flavor. The coconut water is creamy and pleasant, with a tangy and zesty bite from the kumquat juice. It is frequently served with coconut flesh for added texture and taste, resulting in a crunchy and chewy sensation. With its sweet-sour and aromatic flavor, this simple but delicious refreshment can quench your thirst and refresh your senses.

Nuoc rau ma - Pennywort juice

Pennywort juice is a nutritious and refreshing green beverage prepared from the leaves and stems of the pennywort plant, a herb native to Asia. Pennywort is a swamp-growing plant that can be found in a variety of habitats in the wetlands. It is linked to the carrot and parsley families and grows across some parts of Asia, Australia, Africa, and Europe.

Pennywort juice has a signature dark green color. Photo by VnExpress

Pennywort juice has a signature dark green color. Photo by VnExpress

Pennywort juice is high in vitamins and minerals, as well as having cooling properties that serve to balance the body's heat and reduce inflammation. The drink has a mild earthy aroma, with an underlying herbal freshness taste that can be quite bitter if not balanced by a sweetener like sugar. When mixed with water and ice, its slightly slimy tastes becomes unnoticeable. Customers' preferences have led to the addition of a variety of toppings, such as mung bean puree, coconut milk, durian, tapioca pearls or jelly.

Che - Sweet soups

If you are looking for a light and delicious way to end your meal, try che, a classic Vietnamese treat. Che is a wide word that refers to any liquid or semi-liquid sweet dish, such as soups, puddings, drinks, or custards. In Vietnam, this sweet delicacy can be found at street stalls, marketplaces, coffee shops, restaurants, and even supermarkets. It is a versatile and filling dessert that can suit any taste and occasion.

This delicacy is typically prepared with water or coconut milk as a foundation, giving it a thick and creamy texture. The coconut milk also lends a delicate sweetness and fragrance to the dish, complementing the other ingredients. Che can be made with a range of fruits, beans, jellies, and tapioca pearls, resulting in a diversity of tastes, hues, and textures.

You can find stalls selling che at local markets. Photo by VnExpress/Di Vy

You can find stalls selling che along the streets or many wet markets in Saigon. Photo by VnExpress/Di Vy

You should definitely check out che ba mau (three-color dessert) which consists of layers of green mung bean paste, yellow mung bean pudding, and red azuki bean soup, topped with coconut milk and crushed ice. Another one that is worth trying is che thai, a Vietnamese version of a Thai dessert called tub tim krob, which is made with water chestnuts that are coated with red food coloring and tapioca starch, along with other fruits such as longan, lychee, jackfruit, toddy palm, and ai-yu jelly and coconut milk.

Trai cay dam - mixed fruit

In Saigon, mixed fruit is a famous dessert and refreshment that can be found at many juice stores. It is prepared with fresh vegetables and condensed milk, yogurt, or ice cream. Mango, papaya, watermelon, pineapple, dragon fruit, plantain, banana, strawberry, and grape are some common fruits used in this dish. This treat can be presented in a bowl or a glass, with shaved ice or crushed ice on top.

Mixed fruit is a colorful sweet treat. Photo by VnExpress

Mixed fruit is a colorful sweet treat. Photo by VnExpress

Trai cay dam is not only a tasty dessert, but it is also a nutritious choice with lots of vitamins. It is a light and colorful dessert with a range of textures and flavors created by mixing various fruits with yogurt. You can taste the sourness of pineapple, the smoothness of avocado, the juiciness of watermelon, the crunchiness of papaya and the sweetness of mango. Condensed milk or ice cream can be added for even more creaminess and richness. This dessert is an excellent way to experience the variety and flavor of Vietnamese fruits.

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