Having been inspired over the time I have spent walking and drawing the streets of the former pearl of the Orient I have managed to narrow it down to my top five all time classic traditional street drinks. I realized a long time ago how lucky I am to be able to chat in Vietnamese to the street sellers and discover their recipes for their traditional street drinks. In no particular order starting with my favorite, Nuoc Sam, I will share with you my discoveries which are used in many cocktail recipes in the book cocktail art of Saigon.
Nuoc Sam (meaning ginseng water – but there is no ginseng): Taste – Bitter, herbal. Ingredients – Common Version: Sugar cane, seaweed, corn silk, artichoke, chrysanthemum. Special Version: All above, plus – nettle leaves, grass roots, liquorice, dried longan, roasted water chestnuts. Benefits and effects – Cooling from within. Location to buy – Cach Mang Thang Tam street after passing the Cong Truong Dan Chu roundabout
Nuoc Dua: Coconut water. Taste – Sweet. Ingredients – Fresh coconut water (young coconut with natural green shell untouched – note the coconuts that look like perfect white domes with a flat bottom – they are bleached to keep them bright white and over time the chemical will enter the water – avoid) Best served ice cold. Benefits and effects – Coconut water is an ideal drink for weight loss. It is low in calories and easy on the stomach. In fact, this light and refreshing drink contains various bioactive enzymes that aid digestion and boost fat metabolism. Plus, coconut water is rich in potassium, which helps balance out sodium. Location to buy – Most streets around Dinh Doc Lap (Reunification palace)
Pandan herb water: Taste – Warm bread. Ingredients – Pandan leaves, corn hair, sugar cane, water. Pandan leaves contain tannin, glycoside and alkaloids which help to make the body more alkaline and protect from cancer. Benefits and effects – pain reliever, headache, chest pain, arthritis, toothache, fever reducer. Lowers blood pressure. Location to buy – All fresh fruit and vegetable markets sell Pandan leaves, usually next to the Aloe Vera leaves and Corn Silk.
Nuoc Dang: Bitter juice. Taste – Very bitter, herbal. Ingredients – There are numerous herbs in the bitter drink including artichoke, nettle, roaster water chestnuts, dried longan. Benefits – Fever reducer, pain reliever, energy giver, digestive aid. Location – Corner of Ding Tien Hoang / Dien Bien Phu, District 3.
Nuoc Mia: Sugarcane juice. Taste – Sweet. Ingredients – Sugar cane. Benefits – Raise blood sugar, stress reliever.Location to buy – Many streets in the city have a sugar cane stand – distinguishable by the wheel that looks like a ship’s wheel, used to squeeze the juice out by a mangle.
Shri Restaurant and Lounge manager Richie Fawcett is an artist who sits on Asia’s 50 best bars voting panel.