I’ve already mentioned in the earlier entry that Vietnam is one of the largest beer consuming in the world. 5 billion liters of beer is drunk a year, every year. This is because of the heat and the high humidity of Vietnam. It is also because Vietnamese people party hard. Nothing is more fun when partying is to drink. And nothing is better than beer when it is steaming hot in the summer of Vietnam.
Freshly brewed draft Hanoi beer
This is our experience of a night drinking Hanoi beer at Bia hoi Ta Hien Hanoi:
Saying all that to my clients today, we agreed to stop by a famous beer place in the Old Quarter of Hanoi at the end of our Hanoi city tour: Bia hoi Ta Hien Hanoi. And hope that the fresh draft beer there will cool us down. So right when the water puppet show ended when headed straight to the intersection of Luong Ngoc Quyen and Ta Hien Street. This crossroad is famous among Vietnamese youngsters and tourists for being an international corner.
A well-known open air drinking place that serves locally and freshly brewed beer and cheap snacks in a very busy and loud atmosphere. It is the experiences, the liveliness and the distinguished array of people that make those tiny plastic stools of Bia hoi Ta Hien Hanoi all taken. Not just beer and food.
We arrive the Bia hoi Ta Hien Hanoi right when the last sunray of the day disappeared. But it was still warm. Really warm for the beginning of summer. The air was thick with high humidity that made all of us sweat like having a shower. But the first cold beer we had from hands of an old lady gave a nice respite from the burning air. My 2 clients and I bottomed up the 3 glasses with no hesitate. All empty glasses were replaced with new ones just after a blink.
The beer here was fresh and light, about 3-4% alcohol and very cheap (5,000 dongs or $ 20 cents). So light and cheap that my clients and I didn’t even have a second thought about ordering another 3, for the 10th time. My clients and I agreed that this Bia hoi Ta Hien Hanoi is the cheapest beer in the world.
This is not just 1 beer place but a combination of many small shops selling this fresh beer in the Bia hoi Ta Hien Hanoi. They all arrange many tiny plastic chairs in front of the shops, on the streets. All the chairs and table are so close together that when you sit down you will have no choice but to sit back to back to another person behind you. My both clients are Dutch and they are obviously bigger than a standard Vietnamese man like myself.
And I was laughing endlessly watching them trying to sit comfortably on those small chairs and table. Their knees jut into their armpits and rubbed against the people sitting on either side. Empty peanut shells crunched under our shoes as they attempted to unstick their thighs from the man on the left. Though moving their legs toward the right just meant sticking themselves to a different person. People of all sizes, shapes, colors and nationalities sit sweaty thigh to sweaty thigh. No room to even think about being shy. Privacy means nothing here in Bia hoi Ta Hien Hanoi.
This is the drinking atmosphere
We were sharing a table with a group of young Vietnamese, both boys and girls, well dressed despite the steaming heat. At first they did not even notice us as there were too many people around. But the endlessly stream of beer and the chaotic atmosphere broke the ice. We started to talk with hands motions and broken English. Whenever someone held a beer glass up, we all did the same and said “Mot Hai Ba Yoooo” meaning One Two Three Drink. Clinked the glasses and bottomed up the beer. Another round of Bia hoi Ta Hien Hanoi please! My two Dutch clients were really happy to be in this unique atmosphere. Too happy that after the 10th exchanges of full glasses to empty glasses we didn’t even know what we were talking about.
The streets of Bia hoi Ta Hien Hanoi was like a stage and people taking their turn to perform their roles. Despite the endlessness of people and motorbikes, everybody was doing what they were doing: a food vendor and restaurant owner screamed at each other, voices escalating over the motorbike bipping, an amateur singer blasted music from a portable speaker, few children trying to sell us some gum. My 2 Dutch clients were so excited and entertained about all. When I took them back to their hotel they kept telling me this was a perfect end of our city tour day.
Our street eats Hanoi inevitably stops at a local Bia hoi and sample a couple tumblers, as it's not always about the beer but the cultural immersion. Join us to try many other signature dishes and drinks of Hanoi too.
By Pham Tuyen