There’s something I’ve kept inside for way too long. Sipping chai at a street side stand in Mumbai with a new Indian friend, I yearned to express this part of my identity, but for some reason I held back. Meeting with friends at the great smoothie and juice shops they have here in Saigon, the same thing – an important part of myself that I just couldn’t get out. At family dinners as well, around when the coffee came I almost got up the courage but I couldn’t…quite… say…it. It’s finally time though to come out of the closet – I like my drinks with no sugar!
Coffee, tea, smoothies, fruit juice, hot chocolate, whatever. No sugar please. And, aside from an occasional masochistic sip of a date’s drink, I don’t touch cocktails.
Here in Vietnam, where the local cuisine is quite healthy but the drinks tend to be heavily sweetened, I’ve felt the need to take a stand. You can buy a large glass of freshly squeezed orange juice for $.75 USD but unless you halt the sacrilege they will add 1-2 cm of sugar to the bottom of the glass before they touch the first beautiful orange. Fruit is perfect as it is! Why all the sugar?
Shocking though it will be to readers in other countries, here in Vietnam even milk has sugar added. I’m not talking about chocolate or strawberry milk. With those you know what you are getting – mostly sugar and chemicals. One morning here in Saigon, when I poured milk into my muesli and it came out pink, I knew without tasting it – quelle horreur! – that it would be syrupy sweet and taste nothing like actual strawberries. I tossed the bowl of cereal in my nearest hazardous materials bin and fled to the nearest convenience store to restock (and made a mental note to avoid pink packaging in the future). When I say milk is sweetened here, I’m not talking about these flavors for four year olds (and the fact is children shouldn’t be drinking this stuff either). Here in Vietnam, regular white milk normally has sugar added.
If, like me, you find sweetened milk an abomination, you need to look for the special variety labeled “no sugar” (không đường). Sometimes it’s out at the nearby convenience store and I need to walk to a second store.
It’s possible that preferences for how sweet we like our drinks are as important as whether we sleep with men or women. Flexibility is an option too, of course – fondness for both sweet and unsweetened drinks, depending on mood. Is sweetness flexibility the new bisexual?
To my mind, tolerance for different sweetness preferences may very well be as important as tolerance for different sexual orientations. Vietnam has been connected to the outside world for only about 20 years and the traditional culture is still strong. In spite of this, I do feel an admirable sense of tolerance toward gay people.
On this important issue of alternative sweetnesses though, local coffee, juice and smoothie vendors continue to oppress us sweetness minorities into the uniform, syrupy sweet hegemony of the majority.
Sweetness equality now!
Full rights for the black coffee and unsweetened smoothie minorities!
Unsweetened lives matter!
Stop robbing us of our rights to taste the coffee, orange juice etc. and not sugar. Before you dump loads of sugar into someone’s coffee, tea or orange juice please ask.
I’m really glad I finally expressed this important part of myself. Life outside the closet already feels good.
Enjoy the Vietnamese ice coffee video recipe below, straight from a sidewalk stand near my apartment in Saigon.
Photo credit: The still photos of Vietnamese ice coffee in the video are not my own. All video footage is my own.