Trà Sữa Trân Châu Tapioca Milk Tea – 208 of 365

The Most Frustrating Shop in Vietnam

Choi oi, or oh my god, as the Vietnamese love to say for just about any and every situation that may arise. Choi oi indeed. I’ve been stopping by Parkson Department Store’s 4th floor food court in District 1 about once a month now for two years for a drink called trà sữa trân châu. A joint called Tapiocup sells this mixture of tapioca pearls, soy milk, ice and flavoring, and I must say this is about the most perplexing slice of food service I have ever come across in my four decades of existence.

Why must ordering an iced passion fruit drink be such a laborious undertaking taxing my last vestiges of patience and understanding? Seriously. Choi oi, choi oi, choi oi!!! Oh my freaking choi oi. Every time I point to passion fruit on the laminated menu the girl flicks here wrist back and forth in that common Saigon gesture meaning “cannot!!!!!!” When I press to find out why not, she volunteers no ice, no milk, no money for change, no nothing. Every time it is something different. After this song and dance she has even volunteered that passion fruit comes in only the 23,000 Dong large size rather than the 20,000 Dong small. Now I know the equivalent of a nickel is hardly going to bust my budget, but still.  Maybe I just don’t want the large size.

Waiting For The Drink

Funny thing is after all the drama, I always still end up with what I wanted in the first place, a small passion fruit drink. My latest foray into the passion fruit drink arts was deja vu. I steeled my nerves, took a deep breath, summoned the patience gods to keep me from jumping over the counter and strangling her, and placed my order by pointing to the Vietnamese translation chanh dây so as to avoid any confusion. She told me, “no petting tit.” No petting tits? So I told her “I like petting tits. Give me petting tits.” She waived her wrist back and forth and said, “No petting tit. You drink crap.” I drink what? “I give crap,” she defiantly said.  Yes, you sure do give me crap lady.  She meant grape for those of you not well versed in Vietenglish.

I took a deep breath and decided to start the ordering process all over again as I do every single I time I ask for my passion fruit drink. I stared at her for a few seconds before saying, “I want passion fruit. PASSION FRUIT. PETTING TIT.” She blankly looked at me and said “No small petting tit. You take big petting tit milk.” OK, OK. You win. Give me the largest petting tit complete with milk you have.

The fun isn’t over by finally negotiating an order. Keep in mind the effortless ease in which you order your beverage of choice at Starbucks. You indicate your pleasure, give your name, pay, mill about a few minutes and the drink suddenly materializes at the pick up station. Not here. Even though this drink takes all of 20 seconds to make, the production and delivery mechanism is a highly regulated affair. This should just be simple chain of events. Drop tapioca pearls in a plastic cup, add ice, pour in the soy milk and flavoring, seal the top and shake. Voila. Done. Finished.

Final Product

Being Vietnam, a circus sideshow naturally accompanies this one. I paid with exact change (I have learned doing otherwise solicits the “cannot” hand signal), and the girl attached a receipt to a numbered sign as if my order were going to be lost in outer space. Keep in mind only a counter separated us and I was her only customer.  She told me, “you wait some minute.” After she was done she couldn’t just exchange my numbered sign for the drink even though we were three feet apart. No, she had to summon over a delivery clerk with great fanfare who acted as the middleman. I even had to produce the receipt attached to the sign as if I had to prove I hadn’t shoplifted this drink or that it maybe belonged to some other invisible customer.

The sweetened drink is good and I like the contrast of the sour passion fruit if that really is what she pours in. Even the tapioca pearls are fun to chew. I’ll be back again in about a month for yet another installment of trying to figure out why people in Vietnam do what they do.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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