Street cafés in Saigon

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Coffee is an essential part of Saigon residents’ daily life. People can drink coffee in early mornings, at noons or even in the evenings (for those who work the night shift.) Drinking coffee has become a popular culture of Vietnamese in general and Saigonese in particular. People can drink coffee at many cafes around Saigon, but there is one coffee drinking style unique to Saigonese and interests a lot of visitors. It is Street Café!

Street coffee in Sai Gon every evening (Photo: hoaxuongrong.org)

Saigon street coffee is mainly made from Robusta coffee, which is quite bitter but become sweeter afterwards. It differs from the popular Arabica coffee which has slightly sour taste. When coffee beans on highlands are ripe, they will be harvested and dried, then fried with butter and grinded to become powder. When a guest order, the cafe staff will pour an amount of coffee powder into a filter, underneath of which is there a small glassy cup, and then pour boiled water (plastic cups are not used because of the hot water, neither are paper cups because of taste loss.) When the last drops of aroma and hot coffee go through the filter, a cup of strong coffee is ready for being served.

A cup of hot coffee (Photo: mannup.vn)

 If it were just for a cup of coffee, street cafés in Saigon would not be so crowded. What makes customers prefer enjoying coffee here instead of other places? The answer is their unique atmosphere. Before going to work in the early morning, what is more interesting than stopping by a café which can be found anywhere in Saigon streets and order a black coffee? In fact, using the term ‘café’ to describe this kind of facility is overrated because it is only a small coffee trolley with some small stools playing the role of tables and seats.

While waiting for a cup of coffee, you can read a newspaper  and discuss any topic with other people sitting next to you. Here, you can meet people from all walks of life, namely engineers, businessmen, students, motor-taxi drivers, and masons. After an intense discussion, it is the best to sip a cup of coffee to soften your throat. The staff can add ice cubes into coffee cups to reduce the bitter taste for people who are not coffee-addicted and to ease down the Southern hot weather. Or you can order coffee with milk and ice to enjoy a lightly bitter and sweet beverage, the favorite of ladies or men with sweet appetite. In fact, no breakfast is more nutritious than a cup of coffee with milk and a meatloaf sandwich, moreover, it is cheap, delicious and suitable for a working day.

Sai Gon Ca phe sua da (Photo: zing.vn)

Saigon street cafes can be divided into many types. For instance, ‘stooless cafés’ (cà phê bệt) operated in parks (especially in 30-4 park near the Notre Dame) is a nice modification. There are no seats and guests have to look for rock benches or greenswards to sit on after buying coffee. They can also join with youngsters’ entertaining activities: singing and playing music, practicing English, sketching and sometimes watching street magicians’ performances.

Besides, situated in the Chinatown in district 5 or 11, there is another type of spectacular street café – ‘racket cafés’ (cà phê vợt). The resemblance is still there – small stools, small talks about everything, but the special thing is the way coffee is served. Instead of using filters, Chinese Vietnamese use boiled water to cleanse rackets before putting coffee powder into them. Next, they put the rackets in a hyper-heated kettle, stir carefully and close the lid, wait until coffee is diluted, and finally delicious cups of coffee are ready to be served to guests. The sellers claim that the longer the rackets are used, the more delicious coffee is because coffee has been soaked deeply into those rackets. Nowadays, there are just a few number of cafes using this method; however, people find themselves more in love with this unique Vietnamese culture.

‘stooless cafés’ (cà phê bệt) in Sai Gon (Photo: hahatiny.wordpress.com)

Because of precious values, street cafés are an integral part of Saigon. No matter how busy the life is, sitting down and enjoying a cup of coffee on the street is still a habit of Saigonese. Therefore, going to street cafés is the fastest and sweetest method to approach the beauty of Saigon and its residents.  

Khanh Ngo


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