Bottoms up to cheap beer

That’s especially true if you’re in Hanoi, where the beer is surely the best value to be found anywhere and the world going by must be among the most fascinating.

Ahhhh. After a hot, steamy day of exploring museums and pagodas there’s nothing better than sitting in a pavement cafe, sipping a cold beer, and watching the world go by.

The presence of Bia Hanoi, or freshly brewed, light, low-alcohol pilsener-style lager, is one of the best things Communism has done for Vietnam.

Apparently, it was introduced by the Czechs 30 years ago – at a time when the only visitors were from the Eastern bloc – and it has spread through the country.

My guide Hoi, who took me to my first beer cafe, said Beer Hanoi was the brew of connoisseurs in the capital and I’ve no reason to disagree.

It is incredibly cheap – less than 20c a handle – tasty and refreshing, and because it’s low alcohol you can enjoy plenty of it without feeling any after effects.

There is a slight trap in the standard toast “tram phan tram” which an innocent visitor can join in with realising it means – according to the various interpreters who explained it to me – “bottoms up”, “drink up”, or “100 per cent”.

But even after five handles drunk rather more quickly than I had intended, after being inveigled into multiple “tram phan trams” by friendly fellow patrons, I didn’t feel any wooziness.

Furthermore, the cafes also supply cheap snacks to soak up the liquid and to allow you to keep drinking all evening without the need to leave for dinner.

My favourite was the pork pie – which I initially ordered because I like the English-style pork pie – which turned out to be a tasty sausage-shaped mix of finely minced pork and herbs wrapped in a large leaf. Yum.

Sitting at a cafe in Hanoi’s Old Quarter is also a fine way to get a feel for the city’s rich street life with its occasional limousines, endless buzzing motorbikes, bicycles laden with produce and street vendors hawking vegetables and fruit from baskets slung over their shoulders.

You could easily sit there all evening, relaxing, supping, chatting, shouting toasts and enjoying the passing parade. I think I’ll have another glass. And maybe another pork pie too. Tram phan tram.

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