Here, Eat This: A Beginner's Guide to Vietnamese Cuisine
Cà phê sữa đá / iced coffee with milk
Photo by Gary R. Wise Vietnamese iced coffee.
Pronounced: caf-fay su-ah da (the final "da" is pronounced like "dad" without a "d" at the end
Called "the undisputed king of coffee" by Digest NY, Vietnamese iced coffee truly is a drink of the gods. This isn't ordinary coffee, however. Really good Vietnamese coffee starts with beans roasted in clarified butter. The finely ground beans are steeped in hot water for a slow extraction, and the resulting coffee is much darker and thicker than typical American coffee. Into the hot coffee, sweetened condensed milk is poured -- no sugar required after that shot of creamy goodness -- and the entire affair is then stirred well and poured over ice.
Soda chanh muối / salted lemon soda
Pronounced: soda chain moo-ee
Although traditionally made with limes (chanh) pickled in salt, most soda chanh muối found in Houston is made using lemons and amounts to something closer to a salted lemonade soda. The more conventional lemon soda -- or soda chanh, made with club soda and a bunch of freshly squeezed lemons -- forgoes the salt and is a safer bet, but both are refreshing on a muggy day.
Sinh tố bơ / avocado shake
Pronounced: sin toh boh
Unlike western usage, where avocados are found in savory applications like guacamole, avocados in Vietnam are more often found in desserts and sweets. Avocados grow well in southern Vietnam, sinh to bo is used to beat the heat. It's as simple as pureeing avocado and sweetened condensed milk together, then pouring over crushed ice (although you can also drink it in fluffy smoothie form too). The avocado's flavor isn't the star here, but rather it's silky, creamy texture.
Chè ba màu / sweet bean dessert
Pronounced: chay baa mao (the last word is pronounced like "mouse" without the "se")
Like soda chahn, che ba mau is refreshing on a hot day. Like sinh to bo, it's not too sweet. But unlike most American desserts (not counting the miraculous bean pie), it's made with beans. You'll often find it listed on menus as "sweet bean combination with grass jelly and coconut milk," hinting at the dessert's tropical southern Vietnamese roots. Che ba mau means "three colours che" ("che" itself meaning a dessert drink or pudding), referring both to the three colors of beans used in the dessert and the lucky number three. You'll usually find mung beans, black-eyed peas and red azuki or kidney beans in the dessert, and/or gelatin colored green with pandan extract (the "grass jelly" part). It's all mixed up with crushed ice and sometimes served with a coconut milk topping.
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