As a little girl, if Mom wanted something done with haste she would bribe me with the phrase “đi ăn chè”. If you ever wanted to see a little girl light up, these were the magic words. It wasnt just the Chè itself, although the sweet icy goodness is heavenly. It was the trip. It was the choices of everything delicious staring at you as you walk the line winding around each colorful tray to the counter. It was the entire experience.
For my newbies, Chè is a traditional Vietnamese dessert consisting of layers of sweet beans, crushed ice, tapioca, and jellied pomegranite seeds in simple syrup drizzled with coconut milk. The shops are typically long glass counters laid next to each other to form a long continuous view of the goods. You walked along each glass pane constructing your own flavors with the attendant as you went. Sweet sticky rice can usually be found in fluffy mounds piping hot in trays sprinkled with shredded coconut next to the different varieties of Chè. When you got to the register counter with your concoction, they drizzled warm coconut milk on top upon request. Depending on the shop and location, long lines of hungry customers can be found pouring out the front entrance. A popular hangout for couples and families with small children, there are usually a small scatter of mini tables and chairs lining the front where folks can congregate to enjoy their desserts.
Not only did this little cup of yummy highlight my youth but it became the center-piece of many an after school meet-ups and a few memorable first, and second, and third dates during my teens and college years. I couldn’t count the number secrets and gossip shared ever a chilled cup of Chè. And truthfully the “little cup” usually isnt that little. I think this is part of the magic design. Chè is often shared; and I love this part of the experience. The feeling of sharing a cup of something sweet and luxurious is much like the flavors of this pretty cup: sweet but not suffocating with a after-taste of fresh.
The “ăn chè” movement has expanded much since i was being bribed to clean my room. Most of the new Chè shops now have an extended Boba menu (which is another topic on it’s own), designer teas, and frozen yogurts. Craved Tea House in Fountain Valley, Ca offers fresh cut cajun fries and popcorn chicken bites on their menu. They are effing delicious. Warning: Sweet heaven comes a at a price. Renew that gym membership! There are also tea lounges now that have evovled as a spin-off trend that offers basically a full restaurant menu in a ddition to desserts, but I do not consider them Chè shops. They are another breed entirely.
If popularity is any indication, this dessert movement is going to be around for a while. While it continues to evolve in looks and menu, it will always be the place for a thousand first dates, week-night meetings, and even the occasional corporate brainstorm session. So cheers to that pretty cup of Chè!