Something TO SIP

There’s a drink to be had in Hanoi for any season and for any reason.

By THUY DUONG on July 09,2019 10:32 AM

Something TO SIP


Something TO SIP

IT CAN BE quite a task answering a seemingly simple question: What do Hanoians drink and how do they drink it?

If the question of “what” was asked of a Parisian or Berliner, the answer would likely come fairly quickly: wine and beer! In Vietnam’s capital, though, there are a variety of popular drinks for each and every season. And ostensibly the same drink can be enjoyed in a host of different ways.

The Guide is pleased to introduce to readers just some of the typical drinks beloved by Hanoians.

Tea vibes

The very British remedy of a nice cup of tea to “cure” life’s ills is echoed in much of the Middle East and Asia. In Vietnam, and Hanoi in particular, people can be seen at any time of day or night, in smart city cafés or humble street stalls in a country lane, huddled over a cup of “the drink that cheers but doesn’t inebriate”.

Long treasured for its refreshing and comforting qualities, the bitter green tea indigenous to Vietnam serves as an offering to guests, a pick-up during long hot summer days, a source of warmth on cold days, and any other time an excuse is needed to sit down and chat with friends or colleagues.

One of the most common sights on the streets of Hanoi on a chilly winter’s morning is people stopping off on their way to work and sitting down to warm their hands around a steaming cup of tea, blowing into the liquid to cool it down before sipping. It’s much the same early on summer mornings, when the rising sun threatens another day of extreme heat and a hot cup of tea - or indeed a tall glass of iced-tea - is treasured for its incomparable cooling qualities. Not that it’s any different in spring or autumn either: green tea is truly a drink for all seasons.

It’s the first thing offered to any visitor to a Hanoian household. A handful of dried green tea leaves are put in the pot, hot water is poured over them, and then the conversation (often known as “tea talk”) can begin. There is a more or less a fixed amount of tea per pot; the strength of the brew is regulated by how much hot water is added. Likewise, the longer the tea stays in the teapot, the more flavor it absorbs.

Keeping the pot constantly hot is another key factor in the art of serving tea. In fact, there is a popular proverb, “cold tea, stale soup”, which refers to two of the worst things in life and is used to describe a person, implying her or she is terminally boring.

Young people have their own version of tea drinking, which is famed internationally as “tra chanh chem gio” or “gossiping beside a cup of tea”. Sitting around a few glasses of sweet and sour iced tea with lemon is an opportunity to discuss anything and everything: sport, personal plans, work, and even the opposite sex.

Tea stalls are invaluable, if unofficial, information centers. The minutes and sometimes hours spent drinking tea are treasured because they help wash away the cares of the day, and of course also help maintain contact with friends and colleagues.

Something TO SIP

“Nuoc voi”, or Lid eugenia tea

When I was young, in the 1990s and early 2000s, Lid eugenia tea became popular in many Hanoian families. To prepare the drink, every house has a special tea pot called “am gio” (a set of a terracotta teapot and a basket with warm thick cushioning to keep the tea pot always warm). Food stores and noodle shops also use these “am gio” to serve Lid eugenia tea to diners free of charge.

There are also many types of “am gio”, some made from bamboo and lacquer, some are woven rattan with lids covering the body of the basket. The inside of the kettle is padded with cotton or dried straw, like a cotton blanket, tightly fitting to keep the beverage inside hot.

Lid eugenia tea is made from the dried Lid eugenia flowers or leaves. The large woody plant grows on pond banks in most villages in the northern Delta. Its flowers are harvested and dried under direct sunlight for hours and then kept inside a terracotta jar with a plug made from dried banana leaves to keep them from becoming moist or attacked by insects.

Drinks made from Lid eugenia can be drunk warm or chilled. In rural areas, people usually drink the tea in a terracotta bowl, while in the cities they sip it from a glass or ceramic cup.

Lid eugenia tea has a simple and pure aroma that is like the soul of Hanoi. You may feel a little tingle on the tip of your tongue. The taste is slightly acrid, but not to the same extent as green tea. Its touch of sweetness lingers long in the throat. Moreover, drinking large amounts won’t keep you up at night, and it’s good for the digestive system.

Some people also add slices of licorice when brewing the tea, for a slightly sweeter taste.

Lid eugenia tea is no longer brewed in warm baskets in every Hanoian family, but is still sold this way at sidewalk tea stalls. The way it’s drunk has also changed a little. Instead of brewing the tea with dried Lid eugenia flowers or leaves, some tea stalls owners make the tea with fresh leaves, which is more aromatic but also a lot more bitter.

“Ice tea? Lid eugenia tea or Artemisia?” is what tea stall owners will shout as soon as you sit down on the little stool. Lid eugenia tea really is a great drink during Hanoi’s crazy hot summer.

Sugarcane juice

Sugarcane juice is a cheap and refreshing drink that is simply squeezed out from a stick of sugarcane with some kumquat added for a pleasant aroma. Poured into a cup of ice, the effects of a harsh summer day seem to ease just a little.

A few years ago, sugarcane juice mixed with peach, strawberry or orange became a little bit of trend and piqued the curiosity of many. But it was short lived, as people realized that the traditional sugarcane juice has a long-standing place in the hearts of Hanoians. Not only delicious, sugarcane juice also has many positive effects on the health, breaking up kidney stones and helping bolster the immune system.

Sugarcane juice is sold at school gates, residential areas, and, really, everywhere. But the juice found at a small stall in Hang Vai Street or another near Hang Da Market are fondly remembered by generations of Hanoians. A small cup costs just VND10,000 ($0.4) and a larger glass VND15,000 ($0.6).

Soy milk and soya custard

Something TO SIP

Soy milk for Hanoians is a simple and casual drink, and bottled soy milk is readily found at any “Banh bao” (dumpling) vendor on the street.

It has a lot of supplements, is good for the heart, and, of course, is cheap! Many Hanoians have retained the habit of drinking soy milk daily. Every morning, soy milk bottles are heated and delivered hot to the home by soy milk vendors, like deliveries from the “milkman” in the West.

Soya custard, meanwhile, is a “drinkable” food, made from fermented soybeans. Soy milk with certain additives simply becomes soya been custard.

Those in their 40s or 50s will remember soya custard vendors riding their bicycles and carrying a wooden box, inside of which was an iron barrel of ivory-colored, hot and smooth soya custard. When serving, “Mr. Soya Custard” takes a thin scallop shell, gently slices the soya custard, and places it into a wide-mouthed bowl, adding some clear sugar water. Some faintly fragrant jasmine flowers can also be added - a drink that is simple but unforgettable!

Soya custard can also be drunk with soy milk, instead of sugar water, for a more aromatic taste and a little less sweetness. Some soya custard stalls create their own versions by adding ingredients like black jelly or dried or fresh slices of coconut.

Despite the appearance of foreign drink brands in fashionable city cafés frequented by young people, traditional street stalls serving tea, Lid eugenia tea, or sugarcane juice remain just as popular as ever in Hanoi.

It’s hard to be believe that within just a few short decades such delights may be replaced by Western drinks, because, according to many culinary experts, Hanoians are considered quite “conservative” in the way they eat and drink their time-tested specialties.

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