Vietnamese Basil Seed and Malva Nut Drink

I put roots down in France nearly a decade ago. Initially, I struggled with how unlike home France felt to me during my first few years here. My surroundings, the language, cultural norms, and my daily routine had all suddenly become foreign to me. The ocean separating me from my friends and family further exacerbated my sense of isolation. I fixated on elements from my former life that France didn’t have, and I was constantly seeking any and everything that was reminiscent of the familiarity of home, especially food. I was living in Austin, TX before moving here, so tacos, Texas BBQ and Whole Foods were constantly on my mind.

Vietnamese Basil Seed and Malva Nut Drink

Vietnamese basil seeds

Naturally, I’ve adapted to life in France and have learned to recalibrate my palate. With each passing year, I crave fewer and fewer American foods, comforts, and conveniences. The culinary landscape in Paris has evolved since my arrival, and some of the foods for which I had to cross the ocean to satiate my hankerings can now be found here. The diluted authenticity of these foods, however, don’t have the same appeal to me. Try as they may, there is no way in hell that the BBQ in Paris could ever compete with the smoked meats made by the pitmasters back in Texas. What’s more, the ambiance is not the same here, where the norm is to not eat with your hands. So, you can’t comfortably dig in and go to town to savor the ribs like they’re meant to be eaten.

Malva nuts | Plated Palate

Foods and people aside, what I still miss about living in the US is the ease of hopping into an air-conditioned car to grab a refreshing beverage like a smoothie or cherry limeade during the summer. There have been many times when I’m out and about in the city, completely parched but with few appealing choices for quenching my thirst. Whatever beverage joints there are in town are often a pain to get to, especially since I don’t have a driver’s license. The most striking difference is that most places don’t load up their drinks with ice like they do in the US. You’re lucky if you can score even one cube of ice in your glass of water!

Vietnamese Basil Seeds

I find that making my own drinks is the way to go. One of my favorite ways to stay cool during this past summer’s heatwave is with this Vietnamese basil seed and malva nut drink. The basil seeds (hột é) look very similar to chia seeds, but they are slightly smaller and don’t need to soak for as long. As soon as they come into contact with water, the seeds start to form a gelatinous outer layer. The seeds are often paired with malva nuts (đười ươi), which puffs into a kelp-like blob. It, too, has a slightly gelatinous texture and imparts a subtly earthy flavor. Both seeds have a very mild flavor, so the drink needs a little bit of sugar to give it more body.

Paris | Musée d'OrsayNymphs of Paris | Pont Alexandre III

Although fall is in full swing here, I’m not quite ready for shorter days and cooler temperatures. I’m still hanging onto the endless, carefree summer days captured in these photos that I took while strolling around the city a few months back.

Coucher du Soleil | sunset in Paris

What drinks did you slurp to keep cool this summer?

Vietnamese Basil Seed & Malva Nut Drink

Makes 1 servings

2 tsp Vietnamese basil seeds*
3-4 malva nuts*
2 cups water
1.5 tsp sugar (+/- according to taste)
ice cubes


Soak the basil seeds with the malva nuts in water for about an hour. Once they have expanded, stir in the sugar. Add additional water if the drink is too dense. Serve chilled with ice cubes.

*Both of these ingredients can be found at Asian grocery stores.

Bonne dégustation & thanks for reading!


About Nita

Vietnamese-American epicurean with a taste for home cooked meals & culinary stories living in Paris.

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