May 18 2012

Saigon tra

Published by at 7:38 am under Food

Back when I used to live in the Western world I grew used to the fact that if I visited a restaurant I would be able to get a free glass of water with my meal. In fact, I grew so accustomed to it that you could probably say I took it for granted. But if you sit down at a restaurant in Saigon and ask for water nine times out of ten they’re going to give you a 10,000–30,000 VND bottle instead of a free glass. At first it may not seem like much but after a couple of days drink prices can add up when you’re on a tight budget. Luckily, this isn’t because there aren’t cheap drinks in Saigon restaurants; it’s because people here drink something different. If you want to eat out on a tight budget drink what the locals drink: tra (pronounced cha).

This is what a free glass of tra looks like.

This is what a free glass of tra looks like.

Tra is Vietnamese tea and it can be served two ways: tra da, or iced tea, and tra nam, hot tea. While in the north and central areas on the country you may be more likely to get served hot tea, in Saigon you will predominantly see iced tea brought to your table. Typically the tea is a green tea made with a mixture of jasmine leaves. Occasionally you might find a fancier tea made from lotus or artichoke but these are more of a specialty item and will carry a higher cost. Usually, the tea will come to your table in a glass but sometimes you’ll get a pot of hot tea along with an order of coffee, which you use to fill the empty coffee glass after you’ve finished, kind of like a coffee chaser.

This is what a 5,000 VND glass of tra looks like!

This is what a 5,000 VND glass of tra looks like.

You can find tra da almost anywhere that food is sold in the city, from the street cart to the finest restaurant. The price for tra da can vary greatly. For example, many cafes and restaurants throughout the city will give you a neverending glass for free, just for sitting down. Other restaurants, like Barbecue Garden, will charge a nominal fee of around 3,000-5,000 VND for each glass you drink. Then there are other restaurants, usually the more expensive places in town, that will charge a grievous amount compared to the rest. Usually this more expensive tra da will be a stronger brew in a bigger glass but sometimes it is basically the same thing that you’d get for free from a place like Bobby Brewers.

Although the wide variance in price can be frustrating, tra is something that you may come to enjoy and expect if you visit any café or restaurant in the city. The next time you sit down at a Saigon restaurant, drink what the locals drink by ordering a glass of tra!

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6 responses so far

6 Responses to “Saigon tra”

  1. Coffee in Hanoi | Travelfish on Hanoion 19 May 2012 at 2:13 pm

    [...] tea, which is available all over the place for a few thousand dong, coffee is a somewhat more civilised [...]

  2. Ritaon 29 May 2012 at 4:16 pm

    How about the safety of the water that free tea is made? I don’t want to end up with diarrhoea !

  3. carlasiatourson 30 May 2012 at 5:53 am

    Living in Saigon since April 2008, I never ask for water only tra-da and usually never more than 5 dong(VND) or about 20 cents(USD). Often free refills from a pitcher on the table. The tea has been boiled water so no problem. Iced coffee or Caphe Sua Da, with condensed milk is my “morning fix” priced from 10 dong on the street up to 30 dong or more at Highlands Coffee or Nguyen Trung 50 dong comparable to Starbucks prices which I refuse to pay. Just as a precaution always pack Immodium for emergencies in Asia. Cam on (Thank you)

  4. Markon 30 May 2012 at 11:29 pm


    Iced tea is usually brewed as hot tea and is then chilled.

    It’s the ice that worries me!

  5. Ritaon 31 May 2012 at 10:24 am

    Exactly, that’s what I was thinking of.

    Of course, I’ll have Immodium with me. And it’s not the prices of the drinks that worry me – my budget is not thàt tight – just that I like to do as the locals do
    (well more or less) – but I know that in many countries the water is not safe just as you have to be careful with raw veggies and fruit. I really don’t want to spoil my holiday.

    Thank you !

  6. Review: The Fig Cafe | The Vietnam blogon 14 Jun 2012 at 8:31 am

    [...] a mood for those with work to do; they’re happy to set you up with free WiFi and ever-flowing tra da. Don't let the sign fool you, nothing inside is falling [...]

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