Some people like defining places based on history.
Others define them based on culture or food.
But I’m a beverage blogger, and I like defining places I’ve visited using their local drinks.
I’ve just gone to Hanoi a couple of weeks ago, and to be able to define it perfectly is a challenge… But as I’ve initially stated, it’s easy for me to describe Hanoi using their beverages.
For instance, historically, Hanoi (and the rest of Vietnam) was once a French colony. I was fortunate enough to visit Cà Phê Duy Trí (near the Old Quarter), a café that has been around since 1936. It was such a throwback to the French occupation, with the narrow space and a balcony for the ultimate flâneur experience.
Now, in a Vietnamese café, it is absolutely essential to order a glass of Vietnamese coffee. The traditional one is a deliciously sweet concoction, made of coffee dripped onto a dollop of condensed milk.
They also have a version that is made with a thick yogurt. It was a surprisingly pleasant, savory, creamy, and bitter explosion in my mouth.
Vietnamese culture is reflected on their street food, and as I’ve discovered, Hanoi cuisine is unapologetically honest. I loved having gone through the marketplace, looking at the fresh catch/harvest, then enjoying plates of Bún Cha*, bowls of Pho*, and washing it down with some crisp, refreshing Hanoi Beer.
The experience was so communal that the guy sitting in our table went to another for more Saigon beer, leaving his cigarettes and mobile phone with us.
Vietnam is absolutely Asian, and in Asia, tea is not only considered a beverage. Tea service is an art form and an integral part of our culture and tradition.
While the Japanese are extremely traditional (it brings about thoughts of geishas, kimonos, and tatami tables), and the Chinese can be theatrical (with the long spouts and complicated dance that comes with the service), Vietnamese tea ceremonies are much less formal.
I honestly can’t expound on it as well as the best tour guide in Hanoi could. Here’s Quân explaining how Vietnamese tea service works:
This kind of tea ceremony can still be enjoyed in Hien Tra Truong* Xuân Café (in the Dong Da district). I highly recommend visiting the place for its welcoming, quiet sanctuary… It is quite different from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan Hanoi.
While I was all for the traditional experience of authentic Vietnamese hot tea service, that time of the year was one of Hanoi’s hottest. I very much welcomed their refreshing version of iced tea made from the la hán qua* (a sugary, earthy fruit that is also used as an artificial sweetener, and as a traditional medicine for diabetes and obesity). It was sweet, but not sickeningly so.
Initially, I found it perplexing to define what I saw in Hanoi, but I hope this sensory exploration of good drinks, great food, and awesome company would entice you to visit (I suggest going in cooler months though).
Have you been to Vietnam? What other drinks have you tried there? Cheers!
*I apologize for the lack of correct accents; unfortunately, my laptop does not support Vietnamese characters
**A special shout-out to Quân (please look him up for the best city tour you can possibly have in Hanoi), Suyen (I apologize if I misspelled her name, but you can look her up from the Hanoi Cooking Centre for the best guided Street Eat Tour), and the Hamlets (the best, sweetest, and most beautiful family to be with in an Asian tour).