[Nate sez]: Having a really good cup of coffee is a rare moment in our lives. We've all experienced it a couple of times - and you're caught off guard, the Charbucks and Cariboos have conditioned us to believe that good coffee is coffee smothered into the background by decaf this, and frappe that. Triple bypass machiatto? I'll take two. Double decaf vanilla caramel nonfat soy extra room no whip latte? Is that all?
For fuck's sake, why do we pay out the ass for thoroughly adulterated shitty coffee? It's a crime. I have wondered for far too long: Where the hell is my real coffee?
Apparently it has been waiting for me in Vietnam - and when that succulent, rich, chocolaty, smooth perfect sip weaved it's way down my throat, I remembered what it's like to feel alive. You can ask Ben about my reaction to the first cup of Vietnamese coffee, it was downright sexual. It's a simple pleasure that makes life infinitely better. Wouldn't you like to wake up to a fresh cup of melted chocolate lava that packs a caffeinated punch like no other every day? One day I had four cups of this stuff and I had to cut myself off lest I fly off the pavement. And did I mention, it's less than 30 cents a cup? And like 40 calories? Bakaahhh!!?
Cafe Da: Straight Iced Vietnamese Coffee. Take some coarsely ground arabica beans and place in a stainless viet-coffee filter (pictured below next to cups of ice). Add hot water and fill filter to top. Wait. Lift filter when done brewing. Add a tiny bit of sugar (no more than 1 tbsp). Stir. If you want to cream your pants, add 1 tbps (or really to taste) of sweetened condensed milk instead of sugar (this is called Cafe Sua Da). Pour over ice and stir - let the ice melt a tiny bit so it's not too strong and sweet; and so the temperature cools down as well.
You can get approximations of this stuff in the US in Vietnamese restaurants - but it's not the same. I developed a relationship with my coffee lady (pictured with me at top) who sold the best of the best. Her coffee was earthy, thick, and frothy - perfectly balanced. She would take a clean glass, put in a tablespoon of sugar and a few ounces of coffee, and then use a pump whisk to mix and froth the concoction. Pour it over freshly bashed ice (they only have ice blocks in the street markets of Saigon), stir and serve. I will one day return to my coffee lady. I may even try to marry her.
[Ben sez]: We figured that while we were here taking in the amazing local coffee we might as well try to infamous Weasel Coffee. Rumor has it that special Weasels eat the raw coffee berry and on the way through its digestive tract the outer fruit is digested and an enzymatic reaction occurs in the bean which is then dried and roasted.
Now, I should preface this by saying that in America I don't drink coffee, I generally thinks it's too bitter, and since I gave up on caffeine when I was 16 I don't have much need for it. With that disclaimer out of the way, one morning I felt, more or less, like poop - so a little pick-me-up was in order, and what better than some freshly brewed Weasel Excrement?
I tried the coffee and it was fucking phenomenal. After watching the water percolate through the grounds in the little Vietnamese coffee maker into a clear glass I added a couple teaspoons of sugar and then poured it all over my glass of ice. I wasn't quite prepared for what happened next.
It was magically delicious - something so good that it shouldn't even be referred to in the same way that coffee is in America. This just tasted like sweet, chocolate juice. So smooth, creamy, and overwhelmingly chocolaty that I wasn't quite sure what to think. This stuff packs a punch too. By the time we were done with our glasses I had gone from "woke up on the wrong side of the bed" to "I'm on top of the world - WHEEEEEE!!!"
Editors Note: We realize that the coffee we bought was actually this, not actually weasel-shit coffee, but beans put through an enzymatic process to simulate the effects of the weasel. Not authentic, but much cheaper, and still wicked good.
[Nate sez:] It's not all just coffee, coffee, weasel shit, and coffee. There are a host of other great things to pour down your throat. On the plastic baggie drinks side, fresh iced white sugar cane juice (tastes like sweet, light orange juice), lime sodas, vanilla pudding drinks, blacks sesame pudding drinks, bubble tea, and every kind of fruit flavor from syrup under the sun. My personal favorite was the sugar cane juice because it was really refreshing. All of these can be purchased for under 20 cents.
Saigon had a lot to offer in the beer department as well. First, there are the Bia Hoi joints. Bia Hoi is locally microbrewed superlight golden lager that tastes kind of crappy, but is really thirst quenching. In some cases, it's cheaper than water. If you drink a couple liters at an accelerated pace, you might even get drunk. Why bother drinking it? At 50 cents per 2 liters, free ice (we drink beer on ice out here), free peanuts, and a mess of locals gettin tanked, there is no better place to spend a great night on the town at a crowded Bia Hoi bar. They're everywhere by food in Saigon, and on every street corner in Hanoi.
There are also a couple of Brewpubs serving up a respectable and very fresh Dunkel and Munich (@ the Saigon Race Track District 11) and even a solid Pilsener at the Lyon Brauhouse in District 1, Saigon. After 6 months of nothing but golden lager, more golden lager, and golden lager on ice, some really fresh, substantial beer made from German malt and hops was a welcome addition to my stomach.
Let's face it: The guys who declared war on this country obviously never set foot into a side street to sample some of the local flavor. I don't care how communist these cats are, I was yelling "AHHHH MOTHERLAND!" by the time I finished my first cup of Cafe Da. Any self-respecting food/bev fiend will find a way to get their hungry ass down to Ho Chi Minh City for some serious stomach reeducation. But make sure before you set foot out onto the hot, steamy streets of Saigon that you have that life giving perfect cup of coffee. You'll never quite be the same.