A big glass of full cream milk would give me a belly-ache. In fact, I haven't downed one since I was a wee lad. It must be some kind of screwed up selective lactose intolerance 'cause I can devour whole rounds of cheese, large tubs of yoghurt, inches of whipped cream in Aunty Marge's sponge cakes. Even milk on my morning cereal was an issue, a stand-off of sorts, with me staring at my bowl, watching the milk being slowly absorbed and my breakfast morphing into sloppy ugly swill. I happily went hungry to school.
But it was nothing a cream bun at recess wouldn't rectify.
In Hanoi, when I was very green on the scene, I was slightly bemused when I noticed a number of cafe punters nursing bloody big glasses of cow juice. Adults do not order milk to drink in the cafes of my home town. Even kids drink babycinos there! What was going on in Hanoi?
Folks, looks can be deceiving.
The lime slice should have alerted me, I know. But when new in town, one has to allow for some regional variation. I was thinking if the Vietnamese want to sour up their milk with citrus, let them. As I've said before, cultural difference is a wonderful thing. Maybe, I thought, it was a weird climate thing, to fight off some dreaded lurgy brought on by humidity. Who was I to judge?
My theories were wrong and I've since been enlightened. It aint milk. It's bot san.
Whiter than milk, this drink is made by mixing water with what looks like pulverised chalk but is in fact cassava powder. A root vegetable with various other culinary uses, cassava is also being harvested to produce bio-fuel. That doesn't make me want to drink more of it, strangely. In fact, even mixed with loads of sugar, ice and the aforementioned slice of lime, I find it medicinal, sedimenty and basically yuck!
But I prefer it over milk.