Though Westerners are often prepared for cultural differences in how many foods are eaten in Vietnam, many still find themselves shocked by the peculiar ways in which Vietnamese people enjoy their avocados.
In many countries around the world, avocados — a species of fruit which originates in south-central Mexico — are normally used for savory dishes such as salads, sandwiches, guacamole, toast, and sushi.
|A file photo shows avocados being used in a maki sushi dish at a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News|
But that is not the case in Vietnam.
A fruit for a sweet palate
Swedish national Tanya Olander said she was “shocked and amused” to learn that Vietnamese people add condensed milk to their avocados.
“We’ve never used avocados as a fruit or [in] sweet [dishes] ever!” she shared.
“We cut them up and put them on salads. In Sweden, we often stuff avocados with shrimp and dill sauce, or slice and put them in sandwiches.”
The founder of a photography blog called ‘Somewhere in Saigon,’ where she captures daily life in Ho Chi Minh City, Olander has a special interest in learning about the lifestyle of local people.
But even with all her experience living in the southern metropolis, she was still “pleasantly surprised” to learn that local people prefer to use avocado in smoothies and blend it with sweetened condensed milk.
“I was shocked and amused, but excited to try this new way of eating avocado,” she said, immediately admitting that it did not take her much time to adapt to the new taste.
|A file photo shows a woman choosing avocados at a supermarket in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre|
Olander is not alone in her skepticism about Vietnamese avocado habits.
In a search for 'Vietnamese avocado smoothie' on Google, a recipe by chef Shareba from food and travel website In Search Of Yummy-ness came up as the first result.
“When my mom’s co-worker told me that she loved drinking a Vietnamese avocado shake called sinh to bo, I honestly didn’t think that sounded very tasty,” Shareba wrote in her story introducing the Vietnamese smoothie in 2013.
Shareba went on to explain that she has always eaten avocado in savory dishes, like guacamole, or on toast, or just on its own with a little salt and “didn’t think its fresh green flavor would be pleasant in a sweet drink.”
However, she eventually ended up with “a rich, pale green shake that was sweet and creamy.”
“If you like the buttery texture and bright flavor avocados, you’re probably going to love this drink,” Shareba left a hint to her readers.
Meanwhile, Jovita from Yummy Addiction called the Vietnamese avocado smoothie “a great way to start your day.”
Jovita, a foodie from Lithuania, fell in love with the smoothie even though she has never been to Vietnam.
“We have been to a couple other places in East and Southeast Asia, but not Vietnam,” she wrote.
“I learned that avocado is often used in sweet fruit drinks in Vietnam. It has made me even more curious about travelling there and sampling some more beverages — we all know I love my avocados.”
There are plenty of recipes to make Vietnamese avocado smoothies all over the Internet, and they all include two compulsory ingredients: ripe avocados and sweetened condensed milk.
“Condensed milk is a vital part of the texture of this drink, giving it almost a milkshake-like texture,” Jovita insisted.
In Vietnam, avocado smoothies are an easy-to-find drink as they are sold at almost every smoothie stall on the streets around the country, especially during the avocado season, normally from May to September.
The beverage can also be found at fancy cafés and luxury restaurants.
The most common and easiest recipe to make the smoothie involves using a blender to mix all ingredients including ripe avocados, milk, sweetened condensed milk, and ice together.
The ingredients’ ratio can be adjusted to taste without any strict rules.
The avocado smoothies typically sold on Vietnamese streets normally fetch from VND30,000 (US$1.3).
Avocados are often mixed with other fruits and ingredients for smoothies, for example, coconuts, mung beans, and durians.
In addition, people in the Central Highlands city of Da Lat have also been successful with the idea of mixing the smoothie with ice cream to create kem bo Da Lat, a signature delicacy in the touristy city.
|A file photo shows 'kem bo sau rieng,' a signature delicacy in the Central Highlands city of Da Lat which is a mixture of avocado smoothie, durian paste, and ice cream, taken at a shop in Da Lat. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News|
When a blender is not needed
One thing to remember if one wants to explore the whole spectrum of avocado tastes in Vietnam is while avocado and sweetened condensed milk seem to be inseparable, making a smoothie is not the only way to prepare these ingredients together.
Many Vietnamese people prefer to scoop out the avocado flesh, put it in a glass before adding sugar or sweetened condensed milk — or both — and shaved ice.
The dessert is called bo dam in Vietnamese, and the ingredients will be folded together by the eater with a spoon immediately before eating.
Some prefer a simple way of eating avocado that involves only cutting up the fruit and dipping it in sugar or sweetened condensed milk.
While avocados are more popularly used in sweet dishes in Vietnam, locals do add the fruit to savory dishes.
Ha Nguyen, a native from Dak Lak Province, an avocado-growing region in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, said people in her hometown sometimes eat avocados with fish sauce and as a dish served with rice.
“Although we do not eat it in every meal, everyone in Dak Lak is familiar with the dish. It’s delicious,” she said.
Dak Lak is the largest avocado producing region in Vietnam with a total plantation area of over 4,300 hectares, followed by neighboring Dak Nong Province with nearly 2,600 hectares, and other Central Highland provinces such as Lam Dong and Gia Lai, the Vietnam News Agency reported in a story in August 2019.
|A file photo shows avocados on a tree in the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre|
There are several types of avocado in Vietnam and the long-shaped 034 variety boasts the most unusual look.
Vietnamese avocados surprise foreigners not only with how they are used but also the way they look.
“The flavor is very similar to the Haas avocado which we eat in the U.S. and Sweden but the look is different,” Olander commented about the 034 avocados she bought.
|A file photo shows 034 avocados being prepared for delivery to customers by a retailer in Thu Duc District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ha Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News|