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5 must-try cooling drinks to beat Vietnam’s summer heat

With these cooling drinks in hand, suddenly the unbearable Hanoi heat doesn’t seem too bad after all…

Linh Nguyen

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Drinks Summer Hanoi

Leave your Starbucks favorites and canned fizzy drinks behind this summer, and instead go for a cooling, natural drink in true Vietnamese style. Here are our top 5 refreshing drinks for this summer. All should do a grand job of preventing you from getting too hot-under-the-collar. What is your summer drink of choice?

1. Pressed sugarcane juice

Sugarcane Hanoi
Sugarcane Juice in Vietnam. Photo: Magalie L’Abbé.

This well-known summer-staple can be easily spotted at eye-catching mobile juice carts with large Vietnamese print saying: “Super clean, pure sugarcane juice.” Sugarcane vendors are a dime a dozen in Hanoi, appearing in every nook and cranny of the Vietnamese capital. And for first-timers, the juice-making process is a sight to behold, as each long stalk is effectively crushed by an electric (or occasionally even hand-powered) crushing machine, the greenish beverage ready to be poured into a plastic cup. The pressed juice is actually the main base of another, rather more potent summery drink: rum.

Pressed sugarcane juice is also noted for its health benefits, as it contains sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and iron. Its easily digestible naturals sugars can be good for giving an instant shot of energy if you are feeling sluggish, and health aficionados claim it is good for everything from acne and liver problems, right through to pains caused by STDs.

The classic version is best enjoyed with an extra squeeze of kumquat. The final juice is densely, sweet-flavored, a perfect option in the draining heat of the sun. for those of a more adventurous bent, do try out the special rendition of this drink that is Durian Sugarcane juice, which is available at M.I.A, 1B Quang Khanh Street, Tay Ho District.

You’ve been warned.

2. Vietnamese iced coffee 

Vietnamese Coffee Hanoi
Vietnam Ice Coffee. Photo: Adam Ford.

This one is going to be hard to miss in what is surely Asia’s coffee capital. No longer just a local favorite, Vietnamese iced coffee has been catapulted to global celebrity status. First introduced to the people of Vietnam in 1870, the country is now one of the world’s current biggest Robusta coffee exporters, and for good reason. Vietnamese coffee beans are strong and aromatic, and the robust scent and rich taste of our roasted beans truly shine, particularly when contrasted with their partner-in-crime, sweet condensed milk. Add some ice on top and voilà, the famed iced coffee is born. 

The beverage originated, so it goes, back when storing fresh milk was too expensive for the masses, and the packaged sweetener was a cheaper, more convenient alternative. Slowly but surely, the winning combo has found its way into the people’s everyday diet, with some claiming they could not exist without it.

Yet, the beauty of Vietnamese iced coffee also lies in how you drink it. Whereas coffee culture in the West is commonly associated with a busy, stressful work-day, the drink consumed hastily on the way to work, in Vietnam things are done a little more slowly, in high-contrast to the beverage’s intense caffeine kick.

To drink in true Vietnamese style, you must first wait 15 minutes for coffee to drip through the metal filter, or phin. Hanoians calmly and slowly sip their morning drink, because for them this is an experience to be enjoyed in its own right. You might talk to somebody, or idly observe the world goes by. Some might even call this an exercise in mindfulness. As the locals joke: “Hanoi city can’t be rushed!

3. Vietnamese sweet dessert soup (Chè)

Vietnam Sweet Desert Soup
Vietnamese Che Ba Mau.

Skip the familiar smoothies and opt for a more adventurous and traditional Vietnamese experience. Chè is the umbrella term given to large number of sweet dessert soups throughout the nation, usually containing but not limited to beans, fruit, flans and jellies, often topped with a touch of coconut cream and a generous portion of crushed ice. 

Though these concoctions might seem overwhelming at first sight, their myriad textures, colors and flavors make for a cool, fun, afternoon snack, one that’s easily and quickly devoured by the spoonful.

Whether it’s inside a dessert shop or at street vendors, ingredients are usually displayed in plain sight in a colorful array of colors.

Here are some must-try flavors:
Che Ba Mau: Three Colors Dessert: Eye-catching layers of jelly and beans, piled on top of one another, to be stirred thoroughly when eating.
Che Khuc Bach: the main ingredients are colorful panna cotta-like tofus, along with lychees and almonds.
Che Buoi: Pomelo dessert

Suggested locations:
Che Bon Mua, 4 Hang Can Street, Hoan Kiem District
Che Muoi Sau, 16 Ngo Thi Nham Street, Hai Ba Trung District

4. Fresh coconut water

Coconut Juice Hanoi
Typical coconuts served in Hanoi.

For those looking for a healthier option, coconut water is your go-to guy. None of that artificial stuff, we’re talking fresh juice straight-outta the coconut shell. Low in calories yet filled with fiber, vitamin C and important minerals, this drink brings many health benefits. It helps reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and supports the digestive system. It is an excellent source of rehydration, increasingly being used by athletes to boost performance.

Sold in street vendors and restaurants, the juice is in its prime state when the fruit is still young. To test this, simply take a peek at the fleshy (and edible) meat inside. If it seems slightly translucent and is soft to the touch, it is good to go. White and hard flesh means the fruit is older, and probably does not have as much liquid left.

Sometimes, for an easier grip on this bulky fruit, vendors remove the entire outer green rind, revealing the off-white layer beneath. Then, the top is swiftly chopped off, and a plastic straw takes its place. Subtly sweet, coconut water is the perfect weapon to combat the sweltering heat. What could be more authentically Hanoian than overlooking a pretty lake with a fresh coconut in hand?

5. Dracontomelon juice (Nước sấu)

Dracontomelon Juice Hanoi
Dracontomelon Juice served in Vietnam. Photo: Nguoi Thuc (Nyat).

With so many dracontomelon trees growth throughout the city, this one is perhaps the most authentic Hanoi drink of them all. An underdog in Vietnam’s local drink scene, dracontomelon juice easily gives lemonade a run for its money. This is an exclusive summer-time drink, as the unusual fruit can only be harvested during the hot season. And despite its intimidating name, the green fruit is rather humble-looking and only the size of your typical lime.

Sold in most local cafes downtown, upon ordering you will spot the owner scooping the fruits and its juice out of a giant jar. That’s because this is a pickled drink: the hard outer shell is first removed to speed up the pickling process, then the bundles of fruits are submerged in a jar filled with sugary water and sliced ginger. A few days later, the revitalizing sweet-and-sour drink is ready to be served with water, sugar and added ice.

With temperatures in the city often just a shade under 40 degrees, a cooling drink is a tasty essential to beat the sweltering heat.  With all these delectable possibilities, take your pick for the best summer drinks in Vietnam!

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