It’s never cool in Saigon. The daytime temperature never drops below 30F. We were there as summer was just beginning and, between 10.00 a.m. and 4.00 p.m., the average temperature was 34F. It was more comfortable at night when the temperature hovered between 25F – 27F.
The climate might explain why the street food scene comes alive at night. But even at night, ice cold drinks are the norm. Iced coffee, iced tea and iced sugar cane juice were our favorites.
Vietnamese jasmine tea
Iced jasmine tea is served as a complimentary drink in Saigon. The first time we tried it was during the street food walking tour on our first night there. I asked the tour guide what it was, he said it was jasmine tea and, when I sipped it, I was surprised that it was unsweetened.
I had never had unsweetened ice tea before and I was surprised that it tasted so good. No bitterness at all. It may have to do with the nature of Vietnamese jasmine tea itself. Unlike Chinese-style jasmine tea which is a mixture of oolong tea leaves and jasmine flowers, Vietnamese jasmine tea is made with green tea. The tea leaves are mixed with jasmine to allow the leaves to acquire the aroma but the flowers are removed before the tea leaves are packed.
Even in coffee shops, iced jasmine tea is served and you can enjoy it while waiting for your coffee. The photo above was taken at the coffee shop in front of the History Museum in Saigon. On the table from left to right: iced jasmine tea, iced cappuccino and yogurt coffee.
Sugar cane juice: the best is mixed with lime
I’ve enjoyed sugar cane juice before at the hacienda of a law school classmate. Alex had never tried it before.
Sugar cane juice is sold in carts and pop-up stalls on the streets of Saigon. A machine presses sugar cane stalks between steel rollers and the juice gets poured directly into a glass. Ice is added and the sugar cane juice is handed to the customer.
Let me say, however, that sugar cane juice vendors all have their own formula for making the drink. The best we had was during the street food walking tour. At this sugar cane juice stall, the sugar cane stalks are pressed with lime. The sugar cane and lime juices get mixed as they drip into the glass. The contrast between sweet and sour is just lovely, and it makes an otherwise ultra sweet drink less cloying.
Iced coffee is not as common on the streets but is de rigueur in restaurants, coffee shops and even in convenience stores. I won’t include Vietnamese coffee in this post because we attended a coffee class in Saigon and I will write about the entire experience separately.
If you want to make iced jasmine tea at home, here’s how
First, you have to have jasmine tea, of course. We bought a pack in Saigon.
You have to brew the tea as though you were making hot tea. Pour newly-boiled water into a teapot, swirl it around then throw it out.
Put a few pinches of jasmine tea into a pot. How much depends on how strong you want your drink. I use two generous pinches to make about two cups of tea.
Pour hot water into the pot. Not boiling water. If you just boiled the water, count 40 seconds after turning the heat off before pouring it into the teapot. Let the tea leaves steep in the hot water for no longer than two minutes. Tea starts to get bitter after that.
If you want to serve hot jasmine tea, serve it now.
If you want to make iced jasmine tea, strain the tea and cool. Pour into glasses. Just half full. Fill the glasses with ice. And you have iced jasmine tea, Saigon style. If you want your iced jasmine tea with honey and lime (or lemon), see the recipe.