BEER and BUGS: Drinking in Dalat with the locals!
Updated: Aug 5, 2020
When travelling long-term with family, us parents miss going out with friends for a beverage from time to time. Having been in Vietnam for several months, we had the opportunity to establish some great friendships. We met another Canadian family, The MacLeans, in Da Nang and we have followed them all the way south to Dalat. Another Canadian friend from Da Nang drove his motorcycle here for a visit and we decided we were due for a boys night out.
So, the three of us, 2 dads in their forties and a single dude in his twenties, headed a block away from our hotel/apartment to a local Vietnamese bar. Funny enough, it took some convincing to get the youngest in our group to go into this slightly rowdy bar full of locals. "At least they aren't playing music or doing karaoke," I said, and he agreed to come in for one round.
We walked into the bar, sat at one of the empty tables and our eyes wandered at the sparse decor while wondering how to order a drink. After a minute or two, my friend Andrew, a fellow dad, walked up to the bar to place his order. It didn't take long before our golden tower of beer arrived. It was massively impressive, resembling a sports trophy of sorts, like the world cup. We had no idea what kind of beer it contained but we assumed it was local, it was cold and tasted like beer. A complimentary plate of peanuts was also served.
We filled our glasses, cheersed each other and took in the ambiance. In one corner of the room was the loudest table of jovial friends who rarely sat as they were too busy clinking their glasses, laughing, hugging and patting each other on the back.
As we drank, an old momma dog walked around the place, people young and old came in to sell random items like lottery tickets, fruit and some cool wooden serving platters. We were only interested in the beer and some well deserved guy talk, though some of the other patrons took an interest in us. As no foreigners had been allowed to enter Vietnam for nearly 4 months due to covid-19, we were a slight novelty.
Before long, some incredibly drunk, and overly friendly guys from the boisterous table came by to greet us. Toby, the youngest one of us, had an arm draped over his shoulder for much of the night as these guys tried to talk to us and he practiced his Vietnamese. Fortunately, they were the friendly kind of drunk. Unfortunately, they spoke very little english. It didn't matter much though.
After asking us where we were from, and telling us we were all very handsome, several times, one guy said to me, "Do you like rickets?" The nurse in me immediately wondered why on earth would I like a disorder caused by a vitamin D deficiency. Surely I must have misheard or misunderstood. He kept repeating the question several times. "Rickets! DO YOU LIKE RICKETS?" After several attempts, he finally showed me his phone with google translate. I squinted hard, as I had forgotten my reading glasses, and read the word cricket. "Yes!" I said, "I love CRICKETS!" He seemed relieved that I understood him and I was genuinely stoked to try some local pub grub. My kids and I had acquired a taste for crickets in Thailand and I hadn't had any in a long time. As I scanned the tables, I also realized that the Vietnamese didn't drink without eating something.
Then, out of nowhere, a very drunk man stood up and angrily threw a beer glass at the momma dog, thankfully missing her, but smashing it on the floor. The previously rowdy crowd was instantly silent and the owner of the bar marched out with a very stern look on his face. The friends of the angry drunk were doing their best to stop him from escalating and it was clear that the owner was asking them to leave. The bars' matriarch quietly emerged from the back carrying her infant grandchild, seeming completely unphased about the situation. Soon, the bad actors vacated their table leaving a nearly full beer tower behind. (Photo below: The Beer Bar during the day, with momma dog on guard)
Chatter slowly retook the establishment and we had some very inebriated, friendly locals apologizing for the scene we just watched unfold. One guy kept saying, "I'm sorry. I don't speak English," over and over again and shaking our hands profusely. He tried to type something into Google Translate a few times, but was too drunk to type. A young man came into the bar selling fruit and our new friend bought us some green mango with spiced salt to dip it in. Yum!
I noticed our beer tower was empty and I went to pay for it, when I discovered that it only cost 60,000 VND ($3 CDN)!!! We debated whether we should stay for more beers and to our surprise, Toby said he'd be happy to stay because he's had the best practice speaking Vietnamese ever. Also, we still hadn't gotten our crickets yet.
So, we ordered another beer tower and our crickets arrived shortly thereafter. I dug in immediately. They were absolutely delicious! The BEST CRICKETS I have ever had! They were smaller in size, warm, crunchy and mixed with peanuts, garlic, onion, and chilli pepper. They came with rice crackers you can use to scoop up mouthfuls at a time. Toby tried his very first cricket and was pleasantly surprised. I have since been back for more take-away crickets to share with the kids.
The place was winding down so we thought we would take our show on the road. We grabbed some local beers at the store and headed up to a small, quiet park to finish off the night. As a group, it was unanimous that drinking with local strangers was a unique cultural experience and it should be done more often. We did not expect to be so warmly embraced (quite literally) by the local drinking crowd. They shook our hands so many times that I almost ran out of hand sanitizer! Not sure what the highlight of the night was: the beer tower, the bugs or the company. No doubt, it was an evening to remember.
COVID-19 Note: If you are concerned about the lack of physical distancing during the global pandemic, you should be. Perhaps you haven't read about the situation in Vietnam though.
In brief, the Vietnamese government has taken swift action against covid from the beginning. There has been no deaths from COVID 19 in the country to date, and until very recently, it had gone 99 days straight without community transmission. At the time of writing, there has not been a single case of covid in Dalat.