Time to chill

A host of treats await that take the edge off the summer heat.

By KEVIN RAISON on August 08,2019 09:30 AM

Time to chill

PHOTOS TURTLE LAKE BREWING COMPANY & TRANG TRAN

Light and refreshing or rich and indulgent, summer heat means many seasonal foods and not just fruit. I’m sure every reader can remember back to the summers of their childhood and treats they enjoyed that went hand-ịnhand with the heat of the day. For myself and most other 20-30 somethings from America, that treat was the freeze-pop, a simple clear plastic sleeve filled with a candy-colored liquid that, when frozen, seemed to have disproportionate cooling powers. Vietnamese, on the other hand, might more readily recall the squeezehorn used by folks selling ice cream from bicycles they pedaled around and between villages. Whatever one’s nostalgia, Vietnam is not short on cool treats to help one get through the summer.

When one thinks of cold food the invariable thought of ice cream crops up. Being from New England, I was somewhat spoiled for choice when it came to “kem”, as there was an abundance of creameries all about the countryside. While Vietnam can’t compare in selection, I will certainly admit there are some joints that really get this frozen tradition right. Fanny ice cream in Hoan Kiem takes classic ice cream flavors and delivers them with an added bit of flair. The presentation is on point with their specialty ice creams and, for those who say there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing, they even have an ice cream buffet. For those who want something more “local”, two options come to mind.

First, “kem xoi” - a mix of ice cream and sticky rice. The latter gives the dish an added dimension of consistency and the shop at 289 Kim Ma is my 100% not sorry guilty pleasure after a rough day. If one really wants to go out for their ice cream Vietnam style though, “kem dua” is the way to go. Make your way to 40 Nha Chung to a place called GooFoo and they’ll hook you up with a nice big coconut that’s been cut open and used like a bowl and filled with a generous serving of ice cream, certainly enough to share. There, on low stools just off the sidewalk and only a couple of hundred meters from Hoan Kiem Lake, you can experience a real modern Vietnam-style ice cream. If that still isn’t enough, wait for nightfall where, at the night market up the street, you can likely find the last kind of “Vietnamese ice cream”. The dish is prepared on cooled stones with sweetened cream poured out and one’s preferred toppings are added in on demand. The cool stone eventually turns it all into a paste which, spread over the cold stones, begins to solidify, whereupon it’s scrapped off, forming a spiral “roll” of ice cream best enjoyed while browsing about the various stalls at the night market.

I’m sure every reader can remember
back to the summers of their childhood and treats they enjoyed that went hand-in-hand with the heat of the day.

I’m sure every reader can remember back to the summers of their childhood and treats they enjoyed that went hand-in-hand with the heat of the day.

For those who find cool refreshment in the form of beverages, especially alcoholic ones, there are plenty of beer joints to grab a cold one … or four. First is my personal favorite, standing Bar, at 170 Tran Vu street. The staff are fantastic and it seems the selection of craft beers is ever growing. For something more like a pub, Pasteur street Brewery at 1 Au Trieu is fantastic, with an exceptional menu to really fill out the experience. If I’m entertaining someone from out of town who likes beer this is my go-to, as it’s right in Hoan Kiem, near all the hotels, and as they’re the craft brewery from saigon one can be sure to find some quality and curious beverages on tap. For something a touch more laid back and occasionally louder, and certainly the best place I’ve known for pub trivia, Turtle Lake Brewing Company at 105 Quang Khanh in Tay Ho is my favorite. The “beer garden” vibe outside, ample parking, and exceptional amount of seating inside ensures no matter the size of your party, everyone will feel comfortable. The craft beers are ample and the menu complements them well. If you want something a touch different though, try the hard lemonade. It’s cheap, it’s good, it’s refreshing, but be careful because it’s got 10% ABV (alcohol by volume), which can sneak up on an unsuspecting drinker.

Variety is the spice of life, and there are less traditional options for cool treats in Hanoi. My favorites would have to be iced coffee at Loading T coffee, which has a slight hint of cinnamon. Found inside an antique house that seems to always be playing French music, this is a drink best sipped slowly while reading a book. Food-wise, if one is feeling adventurous they might check out Brobingsu at 40A Ba Trieu. Yes, yes, it’s a Korean dessert so why not have it there? Well, the fact is that you’re in Vietnam and the Bingsu is simply that good. Also, I’m not an expert, but given how physically light a spoon of bingsu is and how many of the flavors are fruit-based, I presume it must be a very low-calorie indulgence … right? Either way: worth it.

Lastly, as one is in Vietnam, one certainly must consider trying “che” (sweet soup) and “Tao pho” (soya custard) - two different cold sweet soup dishes that make summer “summer”. Tao pho Jelly Bean at 28 Quang Trung is always busy for good reason. Regardless of age, one can readily find a broad spectrum of different customers at this overwhelmingly positively reviewed shop. Although unassuming, the place also sees a large number of international customers and they’ve included English translations on the menu. For “che”, there are honestly too many good places to name even a fraction of them. Many stalls serve slightly different takes on the dish, though each place maintains the same consistent light creamy soup with ice. Che thap cam cu 1976 on Tran Hung Dao street is an example of a place that does things a little different, though it’s being doing things its way for quite a while. Why they serve the “che” in cups instead of bowls is hard to say. Stating that the dish is delicious and that one wants to return on the other hand is a much easier exclamation to make.

It’s a good thing that summer quickly turns into the rainy season and then winter, as every year I’m almost guaranteed to gain a fair amount of weight from the onslaught of delicious chilled treats. Many places in Vietnam aren’t afraid to get creative when it comes to creating dishes and, honestly, we’ve only just scraped the tip of the iceberg when it comes to frozen indulgences.

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