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9 Vietnamese Childhood Snacks That’ll Give You An Intense Surge Of Nostalgia

Vietnamese childhood snacks

Bubble tea and dalgona are worth the hype, but to many of us millennials, they can’t quite replace the many types of ice cream, candy, or lollipops that we had as kids. Simple as these treats might be, they contain with them something irreplaceable: our childhoods and memories of a simpler time.

So, brace yourselves for a trip down memory lane with these 9 Vietnamese childhood snacks. From tattoo chewing gums to taffy, their very images will bring back fond memories of all the fun we had with friends and siblings in the good ol’ days.

1. Lime ice cream – our lifesaver in the summer

Image credit: Minhon Vũ

Ice cream is always most children’s favorite treat, but while kids today have a plethora of different ice cream flavors to enjoy, the lime ice cream sold by street vendors in front of our schools was all we had growing up.

To call it “ice cream” is already a loose term, as it was nothing more than ground ice with a bit of sugared lime juice poured over. Still, the cool, refreshing taste was all we ever wanted during summer.

Today, this version of lime ice cream is no longer as popular as it once was, but with a bit of searching, you can still find vendors selling it in front of some schools around the big cities.

2. Bagged yogurt – which we’d put down our friends’ shirts to play pranks on them

Image credit: @phamyen2609_

When we’d had our fill of lime ice cream, bagged yogurt came as an alternative. Again, they were mostly just bags of ice with only the slightest taste of yogurt, but they were all many of us could afford with whatever breakfast money that we managed to tuck away.

Today, looking back on how we’d hold these yogurt bags against our cheeks to cool ourselves down during hot summer days, or play pranks on our classmates by putting the bags down their shirts will always bring a smile to our faces.

3. Bò bía ngọt – something to look forward to after class

Image credit: @jennyphuonganhtruong

Yet another after-school snack that gave us something to look forward to after our lessons was bò bía ngọt. You probably grew up eating it, but did you know it is actually a Vietnamese version of the Chinese dish popiah?

Image credit: @luna_o_line

The original popiah in Vietnam consists of egg and Chinese sausages rolled with carrots, lettuce, and other veggies, but of course, that was not something most of us could afford as kids. Instead, what we could get was simply a piece of malt sugar rolled with sesame and a bit of coconut in a rice paper sheet.

Still, the light, moderate sweetness of the snack always kept us coming back for more.

4. Kẹo kéo – Vietnamese taffy that 80s kids grew up with

Image credit:
Khánh An (Hồng Minh)

Even millennials born in the mid-1990s would have a hard time remembering kẹo kéo, but to anyone born in the 1980s or the early 1990s, the image of a smiling uncle figure on an old bicycle, carrying a box of this delicious treat, is one we’ll always remember with fondness.

Image credit: Dân Trí

It’s hard to remember why we were so in love with kẹo kéo. After all, it was just a malt sugar stick. Still, seeing our neighborhood vendor – who would come by every day and remembered many of us by name – skillfully use sticks to roll the malt sugar into a clump was already a delight in itself.

5. Chewing gum with temporary tattoos – so we could pretend to be tattooed badasses

Image credit: Tiệm Bánh Tuổi Thơ

“Don’t swallow it or your guts will stick together!” – is a warning every Vietnamese kid has probably heard from their parents after asking for a piece of chewing gum.

While our young minds actually believed that, it didn’t stop us from falling in love with these sweet chewy treats – and we got to compete with our friends to see who could blow the biggest bubble to boot.

Image credit: VTV3

And you probably remember hoarding these tattoo chewing gums for their wrappers, which had colorful temporary tattoos that we could stick to our arms, legs, and even faces. 

As we removed the plastic backing and pressed the tattoos to our skin with a few drops of water, after a few minutes, the sticker would be printed on our skin, and we could pretend to be tattooed badasses. I don’t know about you, but it was pretty bad for my ass when my parents saw these “tattoos” on my arms.

6. Vitamin C – the only medicine we were eager to take

Image credit: Tiệm Bánh Tuổi Thơ

We all hated having to take medicine as a kid – it’s usually bitter and just not yummy. But the one type of medicine many of us couldn’t get enough of was vitamin C pills.

They came in many shapes and forms, from small heart-shaped pills in square plastic boxes to round pills in a container that vaguely resembled Doraemon, which we’d later keep as an imaginary toy friend. 

Image credit: Tiệm Bánh Tuổi Thơ

To many young eyes, these pills were like orange candy with their perfect blend of sweet and sour tastes with a bit of orange flavor. We’d beg our parents to buy us a box of these every time we had to go to the pharmacy, promising that we’d behave and take our medicine in return.

7. Lollipops on animal- or weapon-shaped sticks – something to collect and flaunt to friends

Image credit: Khuyên Nguyễn

If you’re a ‘90s kid, you probably remember these pink lollipops that were made of hard sugar dyed with food coloring.

Sure, they were not the healthiest thing in the world, and their taste was nothing impressive compared to the many fancy lollipop flavors we have today, but they had something that kept us coming back for more: the sticks.

Image credit: Khuyên Nguyễn

Made of plastic, these sticks were shaped like animals or weapons to appeal to kids. Girls were absolutely in love with the shapes of cute animals, while boys would wage wars on each other using sticks that looked like mini swords and axes. We’d look all over the stores to find that one stick model that we still needed to complete our collection.

8. Chocolate in mask-shaped packaging – so we could pretend to be our favorite superheroes

Image credit: Tiệm Bánh Tuổi Thơ

Who else watched Sailor Moon as a kid and thought Tuxedo Mask was cool as heck? These “chocolate masks”, or coated chocolate in mask-shaped pop-out packaging, were little treats that allowed us to masquerade as our favorite heroes.

Again, they were nothing more than little chocolate pieces dyed in different colors using food coloring, but it was the mask-shaped packaging that we were more interested in. These masks even had holes on the sides for us to tie a piece of string to, so that we could wear them on our faces and pretend to be Wolverine, Mr. Incredible, or any other superhero that was on TV the previous night.

9. Cotton candy – fluffy, sweet treats that kept us coming back for more

Image credit: @purpleme259__

While the likes of kẹo kéo have mostly faded into distant memory, cotton candy is one of the few childhood snacks that has stood the test of time, having been favored by generations of Vietnamese people. As kids, we could never have enough of its fluffy texture that melted away in our mouths, leaving behind a pleasant sweetness.

Image credit: @han_718072m2_91

The way they were made was also a wonder to behold. I mean, the vendor just put what he called some secret ingredients into his “mysterious device”, and then edible clouds started coming out of it? The sight was nothing short of magical to our young minds.

Today, we can still spot cotton candy being sold on the streets every now and then, but with bubble tea, ice cream, and many other treats that kids today have access to, it is no longer as popular as it once was.

Vietnamese childhood snacks that bring back old memories

Some of these childhood snacks that every Vietnamese ’90s kid knew and loved have all but become extinct, while others might very well go the way of the dinosaurs in the next couple of years. Regardless, they’ll always have a special place in our hearts.

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Cover image adapted from Minhon Vũ, @han_718072m2_91, and @jennyphuonganhtruong

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