Us backpackers tend to spend a lot of time talking about and eating our favourite Asian foods so why do we rarely mention our favourite Asian drinks? After all, no Pad Thai is complete without a cheeky bottle of Chang Beer!
Asia has some of the tastiest (and most potent) alcohol in the world, not to mention fresh fruit juices which will suit any detox and a whole variety of different types of tea which are sure to leave your mouth watering.
No matter whether you are looking for an Asian drink with health benefits or just something to remind you of those days lazing on Thailand’s best beaches, there is something in this list to tantalise your tastebuds and transport you straight back to Asia!
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Asian Drinks You Must Try on Your Next Trip!
1. Sugar Cane Juice
Sweet, refreshing and wonderfully cheap; Nuoc Mia as they say in Vietnamese, is the raw juice extracted from sugar cane right before your eyes. You’ll find it for sale at street food stalls across India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and parts of Thailand.
Although it can sometimes be hard to determine who sells what, look for a mound of sticks and an ancient-looking metal machine with a manual hand-powered crank. This is a sure sign that you’ve found what you are looking for! Sometimes sold in an ice-filled plastic bag with an elastic band around and a straw stuck through the top, (practical) this is the perfect cool-me-down on a sweltering day in Asia.
2. Fresh Coconut Juice
Apart from opening your mouth to catch raindrops, this is just about the most natural drink you can get. Drank straight from the coconut you know it’s the real deal.
Whilst coconut juice is often used in Asian desserts, it is also the perfect beverage to rehydrate in Asia’s scorching heat. Did you know that it is the best source of natural electrolytes in the world? It is even more rehydrating than water!
The cloudy white liquid is not only thirst-quenching and delicious but it is detoxifying too. So if you’ve drunk too much of numbers 3, 4, 6 or 8 on your travels, (see below) this magic fluid will sort you out.
3. The Bucket
The notorious Bucket (literally a beach bucket full of booze) lines the streets of Southeast Asia’s most famed backpacker areas. From Khao San Road to Koh Phi Phi to Vang Vieng, the multi-coloured children’s playthings sit, gleaming, silently waiting for another victim from which to steal away the night. Don’t be fooled by their innocent appearance, these bad boys are deadly and then they say, “Buy 1 Get 1 Free!”
They’re usually made from Sangsom or Mekong whisky, vodka or gin; mixed with M150 (same same but different Red Bull) and a dash of fruit juice. It’s true you haven’t been a backpacker till you’ve held a bucket in your hands but just be careful is all we’re saying… share with friends if you must!
4. Bia hoi
Beer was originally brought to Vietnam by the French who managed to sway the locals away from the rice wine that they had consumed for centuries.
Ideally located on bustling street corners of Hanoi and other cities in Vietnam, Bia Hoi junctions are a fantastic place to grab yourself a glass of Vietnam’s beloved local brew whilst taking part in a popular Vietnamese cultural tradition. It’s a great way to socialise with both locals and fellow travellers.
Sit by the roadside with a litre to share and watch the fascinating street life go by, it’s guaranteed you’ll have tonnes of new friends by the end of the night! This light lager (usually only around 3%) brings shirted workers over to the little plastic stools on their lunch break. At just 10,000 VND a litre (about $0.50) this beer is an absolute must for the thrifty backpacker.
5. Vietnamese Filter Coffee
Strong, chocolaty and thick; this sweet nectar is a unique treat for all those who love their coffee. Served in a small cup with a metal filter over the top like a neat little hat; the syrupy goo drips through to create the distinctive aroma that is best savoured slowly as you while away a pleasurable afternoon in Vietnam.
It can also be enjoyed ice-cold, where the coffee is poured over ice and mixed with sweet condensed milk. Introduced in 1857 by the French, Coffee production is now a major source of income for many Vietnamese people living and working in coffee plants in the cooler highlands of the country. Some posh coffee shops in the USA and Australia have begun to import the coffee as a gourmet delicacy – but this here is the real deal!
It is impossible to talk about Asian drinks without mentioning sake, Japan’s famous rice wine. Sake is a very unique drink in terms of its flavours and taste. It’s clean and sweet to the palate with a fruity aroma.
Sake is traditionally sipped alongside an appetiser, for example, sashimi. There are numerous etiquette rules regarding the consumption of sake and travellers should make sure they adhere to these if they want to make friends! One such example is that you should always pour the sake for your company but never fill your own cup. It is best to allow another person to do this. Read more about drinking sake etiquette here.
7. The Beloved Backpacker Fruit Shake
Aah, the trusty fruit shake; always a safe and reliable option for travellers. It’s the liquid version of the ‘banana pancake,’ found in popular spots along the South East Asian backpacker trail and one of the only ways that many backpackers get their five a day!
Pineapple, orange, mango, coconut, dragonfruit, melon, apple, guava; separate or all thrown in together and don’t forget that essential dash of condensed milk, just in case it was all sounding a bit too healthy. Read more about South East Asian fruits here!
8. Homemade Lao-Lao Whiskey
A powerful home-brewed whiskey made from fermented sticky rice that is the national drink in Laos (along with sacred Beer Lao of course!). Don’t think you can keep up with the locals as you down shots of this potent moonshine like it’s going out of fashion. Lao meaning alcohol and Lao (with a different tone) meaning Laos, naturally. This local liquor is utterly unregulated and it’ll BLOW YOUR HEAD OFF!!!
9. Soy Milk
This Asian staple is readily available all over the continent. Soy milk is a plant-based drink that is made from soaking and grinding down soybeans. It is often consumed in the west by vegans and those who are lactose intolerant as a substitute for dairy milk.
In Southeast Asia, soy milk is usually sold by street vendors who make it fresh and serve it either hot or cold. It is also available in stores, though it usually comes in UHT packages, tin cans or bottles. There is evidence to suggest that soy milk has numerous health benefits including lower cholesterol and reduced risk of heart disease.
10. Bright Orange ‘Orange’ Juice:
15 baht for a small, 25 baht for a large. Street stalls selling these luminous orange cartons glisten in the sun and like an oasis in the desert, seem to pop up just when you need them. When you’re hot, sweaty and feel like you can’t go on, this instant dose of Vitamin C powers you on for the rest of the day!
11. Cha Yen (Thai Iced Tea)
Although Thai Tea can be served either hot or cold, the most popular variation of this is the iced version. Thai Iced Tea is made from tea, sugar and either evaporated or condensed milk. It is commonly sold on the streets.
This Asian drink tastes creamy and sweet and bizarrely, has a bright orange tint to it! This comes from a food dye which is put into the tea leaves (it turns out it isn’t some rare kind of tea leaves at all)!
12. Vietnamese Egg Coffee
When you head to Vietnam, you are likely to have locals and backpackers alike all telling you to ‘try the egg coffee!’ Whilst it may not sound appealing, this drink may well be one of the best surprises that you ever have. Extremely filling and toeing the line between food and drink, egg coffee can also be found on our list: Best Street Foods of Asia!
Made from robusta coffee beans, condensed milk, sugar and egg yolks, an extra dollop of eggy cream is served on top to deliver a nice frothy coffee. Although the drink originates from the capital Hanoi, it is served across Vietnam and is easy to find in most cafes. Whether you end up loving it or hating it, you have to try it when you visit Vietnam!
Read More: All About Coffee in Vietnam
13. Chang Beer
Chang beer is as synonymous with the backpacker look as elephant pants. Walk down Khao San Road and it’ll be impossible to miss the abundance of Chang Beer vests on sale, not to mention the many bars selling this pale beer.
It may surprise you to know that Chang hasn’t always been the most popular Thai beer. Before it burst onto the scene, Singha actually dominated the market. However, currently, it is Chang who is reported to have the majority of the market share. At 5% ABV, this beer is pretty strong and will have you on the floor much quicker than you expect!
14. Pennywort Juice
Pennywort juice is made from the leaves and stems of the pennywort plant which is found all over Asia. As well as being healthy, pennywort juice is also believed to have medical properties. In Asian medicine, it is said to be able to help the body to balance its temperature.
Found in Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and India, this refreshing juice is said to have a mild taste which is great on a hot day. Whilst pennywort has lots of benefits, there can be side effects such as nausea and an upset stomach if you consume too much. Try to drink this occasionally and certainly no more than once a day to ensure it continues to help and not hinder. It is possible to buy this Asian drink from specialist supermarkets all over the world.
15. Singapore Sling
Arguably Southeast Asia’s most famous cocktail is the Singapore Sling. This Asian drink was invented in the Raffles Hotel in Singapore in the early 1900s. The cocktail was created for ladies because traditional etiquette rules meant that they were not allowed to consume alcohol in public. The Singapore Sling looks like a fruit juice which made it the perfect socially acceptable beverage for women.
Traditionally, the Singapore Sling is made primarily from gin but the drink also contains lime juice, pineapple juice, cointreau, cherry liqueur, grenadine and Bénédictine. It is the grenadine and cherry liqueur that give this cocktail its colour. Although there are plenty of variations on the Singapore Sling, you can replicate the official recipe used in Raffles by following the video below!
16. Lao Khao – Thailand
Thailand’s rice whiskey is a cheap intoxicant which will get any backpacker absolutely steaming for just a few dollars. Whilst it is hard to pinpoint when Lao Khao burst onto the scene, it is fair to assume (owing to it being created from rice) that it has been around for centuries.
Despite its long-standing history, the drink didn’t start to be regulated until the 1950s when the authorities finally clocked on to the fact that this stuff is seriously strong. We’ll be honest, this drink has not made our list for the taste but rather the experience. To be frank, it tastes bloody awful.
17. Avocado shake
Avocados have exploded onto the food scene in recent years, with cool pop up stalls catering to the ever-growing vegan movement. Whether this is your jam or not, nothing is stopping you from enjoying the world’s trendiest fruit – especially when it comes in shake form!
Sold in both Vietnam, Indonesia and even in Brazil (okay, not technically Asia but interesting all the same), these shakes all use avocado, crushed ice, milk and condensed milk as a base. In Indonesia, they sometimes add chocolate syrup or coffee. Grab one and get ready for a long afternoon lazing on the beach!
Is it even possible to have a night on the Baijiu and not end up in KTV singing Careless Whisper at 4 am?! Asking for a friend…
Baijiu is the world’s most consumed spirit and although you may not have heard of it, this is sure to change over the coming years as the drink is getting more popular and going global.
China’s white liquor is a whopping 40-50% proof which is guaranteed to result in a sore head. In our opinion, the drink isn’t going to be winning any prizes for taste, it reminded us of fruity bleach, but there is no doubt it is one of the things you have to try once if you’re visiting China.
19. Teh Tarik
Made from black tea and condensed milk, this beverage is a national treasure in Malaysia and can be found in restaurants and outdoor stalls all across the country. At any time of the day, you’ll find Malaysians sipping mug after mug as they eat Roti Canai (Malaysian Flat Bread), chat about the day and watch the equally beloved English football!
The skill of a mixologist is needed to serve the tea to its true potential as it is lifted high above the head and poured back and forth between two jugs to create a thick, frothy top. The name ‘teh tarik’ literally means ‘pulled tea’ in Mandarin.
The brand has expanded in recent years and now offers a whole range of vintages as well as Tanduay Ice, their own range of alcopops. In 2017, Tanduay secured its legacy as the first-ever Philippine brand to bag a major sponsorship deal with an NBA team.
21. Bubble tea
Originating from Taiwan, bubble tea is arguably the country’s most famous export. It comes in two kinds, those made from fruit tea and those made from milk tea. Generally, bubble tea contains milk, tea and sugar. The bubbles (also known as pearls) are tapioca balls that have a chewy texture.
Bubble tea can be served hot or cold and although it originally comes from Taiwan, this drink has gone global. Now enjoyed in many places within Southeast Asia such as Vietnam and Malaysia, bubble tea has also proved to be a huge hit in San Francisco’s Bay Area as well.
Refreshing, pink and sweet, Bandung is an Asian drink you are not likely to forget in a hurry! This colourful beverage is a favourite in Brunei, India, Malaysia and Singapore and is commonly found in hawker centres.
Made from condensed or evaporated milk and rose syrup, this is a modern-day twist on traditional Indian rose milk. The drink comes under many names including Air Bandung and also sirap Bandung.
Bandung is traditionally served with ice in a tall glass. It is consumed year-round but is especially popular during Iftar in Ramadan or also at weddings.
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