Im going to introduce you to a drink that has got to be in the running for most delicious drink on the planet and as 100% pure as you can get. This is a thirst quencher to absolutely smash every wanna-be thirst quencher out there. Forget water, throw away the lemonade, you can keep your god damn energy drinks and fancy hyrdralytes. Nuoc Mia is the real deal, it’s as natural as you can get! When you sweat just as much at night as you do in the day, it’s usually the logical choice when you feeling parched.
As soon as the massive alloy hand-wheel rotates, it notifies me that the rollers are rolling and crushing every last milliliter of juice out of the lengthy stick, leaving at the end, a dry, shredded thin strip of former sugar cane. It’s amazingly delicious, cheap, readily available (everywhere not just in Vietnam, but Saigon in particular) & super chilled when served on a glass full of ice (par for the course)
If I could bottle this stuff and send it back home, I’d be a rich man….. Come to think of it, we have sugarcane fields back home scattered along coastal areas of northern New South Wales and Queensland. It’s everywhere…..Hmmm, maybe I’ve found a future vocation… ?
So, back to HCMC and it seems that on at least one of the corners on each city block (8million strong city), you will find a Nuoc Mia stand. It could be outside a restaraunt or next to a bus stop. It’s usually ran by a terribly sweet and cheerful, semi retired (I guess), old woman or sometimes it’s a heavily contradicting young man in his early 20’s, assumed to be doing it for a bit of extra cash while getting through a few tough years at university.
For the last year, it feels like everything for me has been more than just a drink or a meal. It’s always so much more than just filling a gaping void in my gullet. It’s always a joyful experience for me and so often, it’s the people serving you or the new friends you meet that makes their food or drink stand, emerge out above the many other sellers on the ‘streetscape’. It’s amazing how a glass of juice & a broken English-Vietnamese conversation can bring two strangers together.
The sugarcane itself mostly comes from the floodplains of the Mekong Delta, starting only about 80km south of Ho Chi Minh City and about 80% of the country’s total sugarcane yield is grown their. It is brought to the city, sold to ladies who then ride around 1 of the 19 districts from sunrise to sunset, to then sell it to the stall vendors, who then strip it, clean it up, crush it and then sell to thirsty punters. Yes, in my travels around this wonderful mess that is Ho Chi Minh City, I think I’ve seen every facet there is of the sugarcane industry, from when it arrives direct from the farm by truck then passing through every other kind of sugarcane ‘middle man/woman’ there is in this city – usually peddling a bike, or a cart.
In my eyes, Nuoc Mia is definently the most under-valued and appreciated Saigon Icon! On the right day, it will often win out to coffee and if you’ve ever had Vietnamese coffee, you will know that’s no mean feat!
Till you hear from me again, stay cool an refreshed!