Photo by Nam Quan for AsiaLIFE
I haven’t been watching which of AsiaLIFE‘s articles have been syndicated on Vietnews too carefully lately, but I just dropped by and saw that the editors picked up my piece on quan nhau: “Living the Quan Life.”
This one was a real bummer to research: head to a few local quans with friends, nosh on the savory grilled fare typical of these joints, wash it down with dirt cheap beer and shoot the shit. (That’s why I get paid the big bucks.)
As my friend Hai explains it, that’s basically nhau. Eat. Drink. Talk. No one element is more important than the other; each one fuels the other two. I go into the culture of nhau in greater detail in the article.
Oh, and I eat pig’s brain.
Beer in Saigon now has its Graceland. While most bars serve the same range of regional beers, the Kool Beer Bar is stocked with over 100 beers from 13 countries.
Located just off the Ben Thanh Market traffic circle, this joint is the best a beer-drinker could hope for in hop-starved Saigon. Glass-doored coolers make it easy to peruse the goods. The menu lists the alcohol content and bottle size of each beer. There’s even a canal packed with ice that runs the length of the bar — just slip your bottle in to keep your brew cool.
And the beer. While the selection is certainly not exhaustive, it’s nonetheless impressive. Prices are a bit steep, but if you stop in between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. you’ll pay 5 – 10k VND less per bottle (a good incentive to start drinking before noon if ever I heard one). The priciest item on the menu is a 750 ml bottle of Duvel with an alcohol content of 8.5%. It’ll set you back 190K VND. A 330 ml bottle of Chimay Blue (120K) tops the tanked chart with an alcohol content of 9.0%.
I stopped in and had a 375 ml bottle of Coopers Pale Ale (70K VND). If it tastes any fresher in Australia, I’d be surprised. I also shared 500 ml bottle of Vietnamese-made Cuong Duong with my girlfriend out of sheer curiosity. That endeavor didn’t go so well.
“It’s not a great beer,” she said, “but it’s a pretty delicious cough syrup.”
Kool Beer Bar, 177 Ham Nghi, District 1
Okay, so things aren’t THAT dire. But heading into my third month living on savings, I’m definitely feeling the crunch in the lead up to that sign-on bonus at ILA. Here’s how I’m staying cheap in Vietnam.
- Bia Hoi. Paying $5000 VND (about 33 cents) for a beer sure alleviates (if not obliterates) morning-after guilt. There’re a few bia hoi joints in the backpacker district on Bui Vien, the best of which is right around the corner from Do Quang Dau (I’d give a name, but I don’t think it has one).
- Free movies at Bobby Brewers. This western-style coffee shop screens movies back-to-back all day long on its top floor, which features stadium seating couches. Best of all, they don’t even get miffed if you only order a coffee (20,000 VND).
- Pho. Because my girlfriend is a vegetarian, I haven’t had much opportunity to get acquainted with Vietnam’s signature beef soup. However, with the misses occupied getting certified to teach English, I’m slowly working my way through the many variations of pho, which go for about 16 – 20,000 VND. Note: Avoid the franchised Pho 24. It’s overpriced and serves weak portions.
- Trà Dá. Literally iced green tea. This is consistently the cheapest beverage on the menu: from about $1000 – 6000 VND. It’s amazing how much you save when you’re not forking over 12-20K VND for lunchtime beer.
- Pirated Movies Everywhere in Saigon. There are no copyright laws in Vietnam, so DVD shops are ubiquitous and dirt cheap. A good price is 10 – 12,000 VND, and don’t be shy about returning DVDS that skip.
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