Two of the most popular beverages in Vietnam are iced coffee and fruit shakes. The former is made with strong drip coffee and sweetened condensed milk. The latter is made with fresh fruit, ice, and a blender.
Do you see where I’m going with this? Did Vietnam invent the Frappuccino?
Look, I know sweetened, blended iced coffee drinks are not exactly hip. But you have to admit they’re good. The last time I stopped in at my local Vietnamese restaurant for an iced coffee, I thought to myself, hmm, this sure would be good after a trip through the blender. I rushed home and whizzed up the whole thing, ice and all. My blender is no Vita-Mix and is not the world’s greatest ice crusher, but the coffee was still great, much better than the trademarked variety. I was worried the ice would dilute the coffee to blandness, but it was still plenty gutsy.
Knowing I probably wasn’t the first person to try this with Vietnamese coffee, I searched the Web for prior examples and turned up a menu from Spices, a Vietnamese restaurant in Sacramento that serves blended iced coffee with tapioca pearls. Tung Vu, the proprietor, offered some background: “Most Vietnamese restaurants cater to the Vietnamese demographic,” he said. “I’m more in an American area, and they’re used to Frappuccinos and stuff like that. So we serve both [types of iced coffee], but our blended one is much more popular.” Does anybody in Vietnam drink blended coffee? “I wouldn’t see why not,” said Vu.
The trail was hot! Well, iced.
I checked with Andrea Nguyen, author of Into the Vietnamese Kitchen and an authority on the cuisine. “No, I don’t think that Vietnam could have invented the Frap, since blenders were really a newcomer in terms of appliances for the masses,” she wrote in an email. “I believe that such drinks are available now in Vietnam because they are quick to copy anything done abroad.”
So I’m disappointed to report that Vietnam did not invent the Frappuccino, and I did not invent the Vietnamese Frappuccino. But not that disappointed. It’s a sunny day, and I’m going to make myself something cold, smooth, and caffeinated.