Snacking and consuming beer is globally practiced by billions of people. The pastime just seems to make sense. In Vietnam they do this universal ritual quite differently to how I’ve seen it being done elsewhere. To be fair this is the case with most things I see them do. I mean, they charge either 5.000VND (US$0.22) or 7.000VND (US$0.3) for ice cold, fresh draught beer. That’s insane! Even if it’s not your award winning German lager, it’s very much a standard lager. If they can charge next to nothing for it then the people who make it surely can’t afford to be adding fancy things to it to make it better, and that’s why I like it. It’s beer how it should be – some hops, barley and a lot of water – nothing decadent, just good standard lager beer.
They are called Bia Hoi in Vietnam and mine is the best. Not mine, but the one I frequent. The lady who runs it is in her late thirties and she is always so friendly and welcoming. She sells a brilliant German lager beer in a big glass beer mug for 7.000VND a pop. I’ve been told she barely makes any profit and that she does it for the community, and you can see it makes her happy to provide a spot with cheap beer where the people of her community can unwind. She is open every day, serving to the same faces. There is an ancient TV always showing the Vietnamese news. No music. You have to speak to people or to yourself. I love this about the place, it forces good conversations. I learnt most of the Vietnamese I know at non Tay-infested, music-less Bia Hoi’s around Vietnam.
I’m sure my Bia Hoi is no real exception, except for the above exceptional beer. Vietnam is littered with them and each small neighbourhood has at least one of its own. Some of them open up at 7am and are full of old men in pajamas at that time. “Một trăm phần trăm” is what you will start hearing if things become more festive than usual. It means one hundred percent and it means you have to finish your beer as quickly as you can. The quicker you manage to get it down, the stronger and more manly you are of course. Every now and again, you will hear the famous, traditional Vietnamese drinking cheer – “Mot…haaaai…ba zoooo!!” or you will be part of one yourself.
Tasty beer snacks of all kinds are always sitting on the tables, being sporadically consumed during breaks in conversation and downing beers. Quail eggs, fermented pork sausage (nem chua), fried tofu, boiled or fried peanuts, dried squid or fish, dried buffalo or beef, rice crackers with sesame seeds and these are to name a few of the more popular snacks. All of these are perfect beer snacks and you are also welcome to bring along your own meat or snacks and eat it there with your friends over some cold ones if you want. They usually close before 10 or 11pm. That is the only down side I can think of, but it might be a clever tactic to keep us coming back the next day for another session…