Sip and savor: the perfect harmony of kumquat and coconut in a cup

By Van Khanh   August 17, 2023 | 06:00 pm PT
Nestled along Pasteur Street in District 3, Thuy's beverage cart is a Saigon gem. Her coconut drink, beloved by locals, sells over 1,000 cups daily.

Nguyen Thi Le Thuy runs the well-liked kumquat coconut beverage business at 250 Pasteur Street. She moved to Ho Chi Minh City in 1997 and started her beverage business in 2001. At first, her cart sold common drinks like roots and seaweed drinks, but sales were modest due to their wide availability.

The idea of selling coconut drink emerged as it is known for its cooling properties and health benefits. However, Thuy wanted to stand out from the norm. "I realized that just selling coconut drinks might not be distinctive enough. That's when I decided to innovate," Thuy said.

After some trials, she came up with a kumquat-infused coconut drink, which she found to be fragrant and unique. Encouraged by her family's positive feedback, Thuy launched the drink venture and over the last 22 years, she has played a part in making kumquat coconut drink popular in Ho Chi Minh City.

Chị Nguyễn Thị Lệ Thuỷ, chủ xe dừa tắc đang chuẩn bị nước cho khách.

Thuy prepares drinks for customers from her compact sidewalk cart. The sign says "kumquat cononut. No. 250. Over 20 years (in business)." Photo by VnExpress/Van Khanh

Initially, the coconut beverages were slower to catch on compared to other drinks. However, their distinct flavor gradually made them popular over time.

Once the kumquat coconut drink gained traction, Thuy expanded her offerings to include pineapple coconut drink. Yet, the original name continues to define her beverage cart's brand.

Situated on the side of Pasteur Street, her mobile cart is easily recognizable with a sign reading "Over 20 years (in business)." Operating hours are from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, and the busiest hours are typically after 7 p.m., while midday and early afternoon are quieter.

Most customers choose takeout during the day, but in the evenings, many sit by the sidewalk. Thuy provides small plastic chairs for customers to enjoy drinks on the spot. During busy times, some even find seating across the street.

"I have loyal customers who understand. When it's crowded, they wait patiently in line to order, find seats, and settle in," Thuy said.

On weekdays, Thuy usually sells a few hundred cups of kumquat coconut drinks. On weekends, especially in hot weather, sales can reach around 1,000 cups. Her beverages attract both locals and tourists, who often come in groups.

Nước dừa và cơm dừa được ướp lạnh trong xô đá.

Coconut water and white flesh are cooled in an ice bucket. Photo by VnExpress/Van Khanh

The recipe for a glass of kumquat coconut drink comprises fresh coconut water and flesh, and homemade kumquat jam. While the ingredients are simple, the preparation process is intricate and time-consuming.

To ensure freshness, she sources coconuts from a contact in Ben Tre Province, also known as Vietnam's cononut kingdom in the Mekong Delta. Instead of preparing coconut water in advance, Thuy opts to cut coconuts on-site as orders come in.

"With such a large customer base, almost everyone in my family has to keep cutting coconuts. After cutting, we immediately bring them to the cart. It's a more challenging approach, but it guarantees quality and avoids sourness in the coconut water," Thuy said.

The coconut flesh is sliced thin and then chilled with the coconut water in a large container. The kumquat jam is made with a sweet yet slightly tart taste, achieved using alum sugar and excluding o mai (salted dried fruit) to retain the aroma of the fruit.

The price for a small cup of the beverage is VND15,000 (US$0.63), while a large cup costs VND20,000. The cart always requires two attendants to ensure efficient service and minimal waiting times. One person handles pouring the coconut water, while the other adds the jam and packages the drink.

Mứt tắc do chị Thuỷ tự sên, bán kèm ly dừa tắc lớn với giá 20.000 đồng.

Homemade kumquat jam by Thuy is added to a cup of coconut drink. Photo by VnExpress/Van Khanh

Thanh Huong from Hanoi discovered this drink through a friend's recommendation upon moving to Ho Chi Minh City and has been a loyal customer for over three years.

"You don't come across many places outside of Hanoi selling this drink. The first time I tasted it, I was captivated by the sweet coconut water paired with the gentle tanginess of the jam," she said.

In addition to the taste, the presence of coconut meat is a standout for many customers.

Tuan Lam from District 3 praised the drink's good value and satisfying quality. He also liked the abundant and crispy coconut flesh. "Having a sip of coconut water and enjoying the coconut flesh together is a perfect blend," he said.

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