Bia Hoi!

by aengelson | May 2nd, 2010

The other day I got together with a correspondent who works for AFP here in Hanoi to chat. And where did two writers go to talk? A bia hoi joint, of course.

The people of Hanoi lift a glass of beer at a bia hoi joint.

For those who don’t know, Hanoi is filled with bia hoi–”fresh beer”–places. It’s where men (and some women, accompanied by male friends) go to drink beer on tap and eat an array of snacks. Some places are simply a cold keg, a few tiny plastic chairs and tables and bowls of peanuts. More elaborate places have indoor and outdoor seating and a huge menus of fried goodies, from tofu to chicken to greens and veggies. Dried, salty squid is a popular accompaniment.

Bia hoi is an integral part of Hanoi life. And while beer is served in other parts of Vietnam, the bia hoi phenomenon seems most concentrated in Hanoi. The beer itself is one of the local brands–Bia Hanoi or Halida, usually. It’s served icy cold in small plastic cups, and it’s crisp, hoppy and refreshing. It’s not Redhook ESB or Full Sail IPA, but on a hot day with a plate of fried tofu, some roasted peanuts and a dish of cucumber slices, it sure hits the spot. Beer in Vietnam tends to have less alcohol than the American and European brands, so you can lift a couple cups without getting too tipsy. Although, judging by the flushed faces and loud conversations all around us, folks were drinking than just a couple cups.

In total, the six beers, tofu, cucumber, and peanuts we had came to a whopping $3.50.

Did I mention I love this city?

You can read more about beer in Vietnam in this recent New York Times feature.

2 Responses to “Bia Hoi!”

  1. Patricia says:

    sounds so great, wish we’d done that when we were there. Next trip.

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About This Site

Andy Engelson is a writer and editor who lives in Hanoi, Vietnam. He's currently working on a historical novel set in the Northwest United States during World War II. He's also a freelance writer, essayist and member of the Hanoi Writer's Collective. In a former life, he edited Washington Trails magazine for six years and before that was freelance journalist. He likes to hike, travel, and play with his family.


I have seen it over and over, the same sea, the same,
slightly, indifferently swinging above the stones,
icily free above the stones,
above the stones and then the world.
If you should dip your hand in,
your wrist would ache immediately,
your bones would begin to ache and your hand would burn
as if the water were a transmutation of fire
that feeds on stones and burns with a dark gray flame.
If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter,
then briny, then surely burn your tongue.
It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.
— Elizabeth Bishop, “At the Fishhouses”


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