Coconut water or coconut juice (or milk) is a popular sweet drink among Vietnamese and apparently it has been for centuries. “The best thing about Vietnamese coconut milk is that it comes to you super-fresh,” says Tung, a friend of mine who runs a small coffee shop in Saigon. And I agree with him. It’s better than the packaged stuff we can buy in Europe, USA or Australia. The coconut water in Vietnam is usually drunk straight from the coconut shell through a plastic straw.
Taste of Vietnamese Coconut
The juicy, jelly-like liquid inside the coconut is grassier, sweeter, and more full-flavoured compared to what is being sold as packaged drinks in western countries. I learned that smaller coconuts are usually sweeter and more enjoyable to drink. If the juice tastes a bit salty, it’s probably because the coconut is too old for drinking, and if it’s gassy it usually means exactly the opposite — not ripened yet. (btw: Coconuts are usually harvested when they’re about seven weeks old.)
Where and how to drink the Vietnamese coconut juice (water)
Vietnamese coconut water is very easy to find almost everywhere in big cities and also around rural areas, especially alongside busy roads and main drags. Just look for a pile of green, soccer-ball-sized globes. Also, most open-space coffee shops and restaurants have it on their menu, as well as many bars and clubs.
Whole coconuts can be slightly unwieldy to handle and store. Therefore vendors usually chop off the outer green husk and only keep the small white inner-shell which they cut into a shape that won’t fall over when placed on a flat surface. Sellers then keep those coconut balls on ice until customers order one. So when you order one, they simply chop a hole in the top with a giant machete (or a robust sharp knife) and serve it to you with a straw and spoon. The spoon is there so you can scrape the white coconut flesh from the inside walls and eat it as a snack.
The readiness of coconut can be determined the white coconut flesh inside the shell, which should be jelly-like but not completely translucent. If it’s hard white the fruit is most likely already too old for drinking.