Saigonese gelatinous drinks

sương sa hột lựuDuring these days at the threshold of a hot weather transition, Sài Gòn is experiencing the hottest spell of the year before the arrival of the rainy season.

Just like their peers in tropical cities worldwide, residents in this southern city have their indigenous summer drinks.

The traditional gelatinous beverages are among the most unique Sài Gòn has to offer.

In the Vietnamese language, it’s hard to find terminological explanations as to why sương sa, sương sáo and sương sâm share the same first unit of sương although the things they denote do share the same character.

All the three words refer to the gelatinous drinks whose origins remain unknown to many local residents despite the fact that they may have been as old as the city itself.

Curious enough for those who are interested in finding their terminological relations, sương sa, sương sáo and sương sâm come from quite different sources.

Both sương sáo and sương sâm are produced from plant leaves.

But they are different species sharing little in common. Sương sáo stems from a plant of the mint family called Mesona chinensis.

Also coming from a flowering plant, sương sâm is of the Menispermaceae family.

By contrast, sương sa, better known as agar in English, is a product of a marine algae.

It is easy to prepare these jelly drinks which under the skillful hands will turn into wonderful summer thirst quenchers.

Traditionally, gelatinous substances are distracted from raw or dried leaves and then water is added.

The mixture is let congeal naturally so that finally we have an agar-like block which takes the shape of its container.

The block is cut into very small cubes and best served with home-made syrup and ice.

In some shops, sương sáo is served with soy milk or groundnut milk and offers yet another unique drink.

In some others, a concoction of sương sa, sương sáo, hột lựu (tiny cubes made from tapioca) and coconut milk is preferable.

In recent times, raw or dried leaves have been replaced by ready-made powder.

Saigonese go to a grocery story at the market to ask for a packet of powder so that they can make the drinks at home.

In Sài Gòn, these gelatinous drinks are often available at traditional markets where they are sold by hawkers.

In fact, some newspaper articles have warned against the hygienic conditions of the drinks in town, saying they do not meet food quality requirements.

Like other snack hawkers in Sài Gòn, most gelatinous drink peddlers sell their products on push-carts.

Oftentimes, the carts have their trunks made of thin stainless steel or aluminium sheets to give an impression of cleanliness.

A parasol is installed to give shade to the hawker and customers.

On the cart’s top are glassware and large stainless steel bowls containing the jelly. Drink orders are prepared on the spot.

 By QUỲNH THƯ

Source: The Saigon Times

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