Food & Recipes - July 14, 2018 | 09:00 pm PT

Why Hanoi's really cool no matter how hot it gets

Vietnam's capital city has a wide range of classic natural beverages that are tastier, healthier and cheaper than branded soft drinks.

We have been having unusually hot weather in the capital city this summer, and the advice being handed out freely is to have plenty of fluids.

Hanoi is a good place to follow this advice, because it has a wide range of classic summer fruit drinks made with small, edible fruits that have quenched thirsts through generations and better still, are easily available in many restaurants, cafes and street side stalls.

“The drinks are very easy to make, first you have to prepare the sugar syrup, by cooking the sugar until it dissolves completely in water. Then you put the syrup and fruits into jars and let them soak for at least two weeks,” said Mai, a shop owner who has been making these traditional drinks for the last 10 years.

“You can easily find some of these fruits on the old side road trees of Hanoi as they are fresh and free to collect,” Mai said.

Dracontomelon juice

Dracotonmelons or “sau” can only be collected in the summer, from very tall trees that line the streets of the capital city. A basketful of the dracotonmelons costs around VND50,000 ($2.16).

The small, green fruit tastes very sour and is hard to eat on its own, but after it is soaked in a sugar and ginger concoction for weeks, it makes a drink that would give the more popular lemonade a run for its money. 

Take a spoonful or two of the syrup in a cup, add water and ice, and your thirst quencher is ready to do its job. From time to time, take a bite of the fruit at the bottom of the glass. For added flavor, the drink is garnished with fresh jasmine flowers.

Sweet and salted apricot juice

Apricot juice has been a favorite drink of Hanoi for many years. The fruit is not very juicy and has a lightly sweet, tart taste. This drink is becoming more difficult to find these days, and not many street-side stalls are still selling it nowadays.

After being soaked in the sugar syrup, the apricots get crunchy and sweet. A cup of this apricot juice will drive the summer heat and the tiredness out of your limbs.

The salted version is very different in taste, of course. The addition of sea salt to the sugar syrup changes the texture of the fruit, too. The mixture is delectable, though.  

Tamarind juice

The tamarind fruit is so sour that it is used as a spice in many dishes. In Hanoi, though, the tamarind becomes another thirst quencher. 

Like the other drinks, the tamarind is soaked in the sugar mixture for a few weeks, but the amount of sugar is increased to counter the fruit’s sourness. The quantity of water added is also more than that for other drinks. 

A cup of tamarind juice is not complete without sprinkling some dry sugared coconuts on top. Mixed them all together and take a spoonful of sweet tamarind and crunchy coconut bring a unique taste to your senses.

Mulberry juice

Mulberry is plucked from the large suburban gardens of Hanoi then delivered to central supermarkets and sidewalk vendors for around VND25,000 ($1.08) a kilo.

Mulberries are not very sweet but they have a pleasant fragrance and when sweetened, makes for a great summer beverage. 

Make sure to wash the berries carefully before making the syrup, because they ferment easily and give off an alcoholic taste that many may not like. It is best that the syrup is enjoyed within a month. 

And when you have these drinks, a dish of sunflower seeds is a perfect accompaniment. 

The prices of these rustic refreshments range from VND10,000 to VND25,000 ($0.43 to $1.08) for a glass and $0.43 for a dish of sunflower seeds.

Story and photos by Tuan Hoang