Bia Hoi Culture
Bia Hoi literally translates to 'fresh beer'. It is a typical Vietnamese beverage, a very light beer with low alcohol content and no strong aftertaste. Definitely a great drink to freshen up with friends after a long day's work.
Not just a drink, Bia Hoi is a way of life and it embodies the beer culture of the country. It is a common sight to see the Vietnamese at many small street corners across cities and towns consuming a cold beer at dusk. Tourist too have joined in this hobby, drinking beer and eating street food while sitting by the sidewalk in miniature plastic stools and tables. Bia Hoi is made fresh every night and gets delivered every morning to establishments in kegs. The kegs are not pressurized and have absolutely no preservatives nor carbonation added to the beer. Therefore, Bia Hoi needs to be consumed within 24 hours.
Vietnamese people are known as big drinkers all over the world. As far as their reputation goes, they can down rice wine very easily, so what needs to be said for beer? Part of the Vietnamese drinking culture is inviting others to join in. Do not be shy if you are approached by Vietnamese drinking in Bia Hoi corner to drink with them. But beware - they will not go easy on you!
Bia Hoi is Vietnam's most famous beer and iconic beer. Bia Hoi is served throughout Vietnam, particularly in North Vietnam, and has shaped a beer culture enjoyed by everyone. No matter what age you are (as long as you are of legal drinking age!), whether you are rich or poor, Vietnamese, expats, tourists etc, you will surely enjoy having a good time drinking Bia Hoi. For just a few pennies, you can enjoy the world's not only the cheapest beer but also the freshest!
If you love exploring different cultures or you just love beer (especially incredibly cheap and delicious ones), this article is for you! From brewing history to the most popular Bia Hoi corner in Vietnam and even the Bia Hoi drinking culture, we got it all covered!
Where and when did Bia Hoi start?
Let us travel back in time to the end of the 19th century when the first brewery in Vietnam was opened by the French colonials. The establishment was built in Ta Hien Street or Hanoi Westestern Street in the capital city, Hanoi. The French named it Hommel Brewery.
At that time, drinking beer was only for the elite because the production of beer was not cheap and many Vietnamese locals were too patriotic to drink colonial beer.
Due to the shortages of materials such as glass and metal, there were no bottles or containers available for beer storage. Reusable kegs were promoted as an alternative for this problem.
When North Vietnam was liberated from France, many French operations were taken over by the Vietnamese. Likewise, a large portion of the beer production was taken over by the Vietnamese and the name of the brewery was changed from Hommel Brewery into Hanoi Brewery and from there Bia Hoi was born. Only local ingredients were used to brew the beer, and the alcohol content was made to be only around 3-4%. As a result, the Vietnamese could grab a beer after a hard day's work and enjoy a few glasses without getting drunk.
The iconic Bia Hoi glass
The beer is so special that it is served in glasses specifically made just for Bia Hoi. Like wine served in wine glasses or whiskey served in whiskey glasses, Bia Hoi is served in its own Bia Hoi glass. A Bia Hoi glass is also known as a cauldron glass.
The green glass has a thick bottom and a wide mouth that can hold about half a liter of beer. It is also usually handmade using recycled glass, making it eco-friendly. This manufacturing method supports the livelihoods of thousands of Vietnamese across the country who collect used glass bottles for sale and recycling. For Bia Hoi glasses, the bottles selected for recycling undergo a 6-hour heat process before being shaped into glasses and then buried under ashes for slow cooling.
The glass was designed by Le Huy Van, a Vietnamese artists who studied arts at Burg Giebichenstein Kunsthochschule Halle (University of art and design) in Germany. When he returned to Hanoi, Le Huy Van started off working as an interpreter at the Hanoi Government's Office.
Four years later, Le Huy Van was moved to the Industrial Cooperative Technical Department, City of Hanoi and got his break! He was assigned to design something that people could use to drink Bia Hoi, as it was felt that drinking Bia Hoi in teacups or water glasses did give the beer sufficient justice. From Le Huy Van's talents, the iconic Bia Hoi glass was born.
How much is a glass and is Bia Hoi safe to drink?
Given the appealingly low price of a glass of Bia Hoi - around US$0.22 (5,000 to 6,000 VND), you may be tempted to knock back more than your fair share!
Bia Hoi is safe (and delicious) to consume if it is served by a reputable establishment. The concern here is that Bia Hoi is a fresh beer and some brewers serve it beyond its 24-hour mark. In addition, some brewers may not be making it according to high standards.
Of course food poisoning can be a concern for tourist, and even locals, when travelling to a new place, it is best to research the establishment before downing endless glasses!
The Best Place to Enjoy Bia Hoi in Vietnam
If you are looking for the most authentic experience to try Bia Hoi, there is only one place to go - Bia Hoi Corner (Bia Hoi Junction) in Hanoi.
When darkness starts to cover the city, head towards Hanoi Old Quarter's famous beer corner. When you reach the quintessential nightlife spot of where Ta Hien Street intersects with Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, you will find Bia Hoi Corner.
You will definitely know that you are at the right place. Banners promoting 'Bia Hoi 5,000' will be flapping in the wing. Within these bustling streets, you will find plenty of street vendors selling countless types of street food. There will also be imported bottled beer, local canned beer, and of course the famous Bia Hoi draft beer on offer!
Tips for visiting Bia Hoi Junction (Ta Hien Street)
- 'Mot, hai, ba, YOOOOOOO!' is the standard way to say cheers in Vietnamese
- Be mindful of your belonging!
- Have your hotel's address on hand
- Do not drink and drive - use a ride-hailing service (E.g. Grab), or ask your hotel to arrange a ride for you
- Riding a motorbike around the areas can be fun way to experience the night scenes - remember to fuel up as petrols stations are scarce in the old quarter, and no drinking!
Best time to Visit Bia Hoi Junction
Timing your visit is very crucial for a more enjoyable experience. Evening and night time is the most bustling time at beer corner.
It would be best to avoid the rain, especially in during Hanoi's winter. The best time to visit Hanoi is February to April, during the spring season. During spring, temperatures hover from 20°C to 30°C with minimal rainfall. The days are warm and sunny, so why not cool down with a beer at dusk?
However, we bet that nothing can stop you from Bia Hoi, not even winter rain! If you are visiting in the rainy season, be sure to have a raincoat on hand.
How about Bia Hoi beer in Saigon?
If you do not have an opportunity to travel to Hanoi's Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen streets, do not worry! You can find Bia Hoi places all across Vietnam and partake in Bia Hoi culture wherever you are.
Of course there are similar spots in Ho Chi Minh City where you can find people sitting by the sidewalks sipping beer and munching on street food. The ambiance is almost the same as at the street corners of Hanoi's infamous Ta Hien.
Here are some bars in Saigon where you can sit down and relax while having a Bia Hoi:
Bia Sai Gon 73
This Bia Hoi bar can be found in the middle of the backpacker area of Bui Vien. The customers are a mix of tourists and locals. The establishments has small stools and tables where you can enjoy your Bia Hoi for 10,000 VND, which is around US$0.45 per pint.
Address: 73 Bùi Viện, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Bia Hoi Ha Noi
This beer bar caters more to the Vietnamese than to foreign tourists. The bar is not directly by the bustling streets but is located on the second floor of the building away from traffic noise and dust. You will find this gem in the streets of Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, a block away from the Reunification Palace.
Address: 176 Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, Phường 6, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
Best food to pair with Bia Hoi
Why drink the best beer in Vietnam if you do not pair it with some munchies?
We have listed a few must-try street food dishes when visiting Bia Hoi Junction, to accompany the taste of a fresh beer. We promise that most other Bia Hoi places will have similar street food offerings too!
Bun Bo Ta Hien
An original of Ta Hien Street, this vermicelli rice noodle soup dish is served with thin slices of delicious beef and bean sprouts, topped with roasted peanuts, deep-fried scallions and served with cilantro on top.
Fresh Spring Rolls
Vietnam is well known for its spring rolls. Get some with prawns, fresh green onion leaves, julienned carrots, thinly sliced cucumber and vermicelli rice all wrapped up in soft rice paper sheets. It is best dipped in peanut sauce.
Grilled Honey Quail
Next-level chicken wings. Grilled honey quails are a yummy small snack with a tantalising smell! This budget-friendly dish goes swimmingly well with beer.
While the bars themselves do not often serve dried squid, keep an eye out for street vendors driving around peddling these tasty morsels, especially during evening time.
Mot, hai, ba, YOOOOOOO!
Bia Hoi is a special beverage beloved by the Vietnamese and anyone who visits Vietnam. Rich in history, delicious in taste, and very affordable, Bia Hoi is hard to beat! Whether you are visiting the North or South Vietnam, be sure to have a glass (or five)!
I hope you enjoyed reading this beer article as much we enjoyed researching it. If you're looking for more on the vibrant culture of cuisine in Vietnam, be sure to check out our food & drink guides.