There is a creation that, as far as this country is concerned, is purely Hanoi/Vietnamese. It is egg coffee. I know what you’re probably thinking, “Eww, gross! I don’t want eggs anywhere near my coffee unless they’re fried and on a plate to the side.” What? You’re not thinking that? Well that’s what I was thinking the first time I heard of it.
A man here in Hanoi, Mr. Nguyen Giang, was looking for a milk replacement during a time of scarcity and somehow came up with the idea. According to his son (as he states on the family cafe’s website http://www.giangcafehanoi.com) this was sometime in 1946. The drink’s main ingredients are chicken egg yolk, Vietnamese coffee powder, sweetened condensed milk, butter, and cheese (laughing cow cheese, according to my very brief and likely incomplete research).
One day recently we went to Hanoi’s Old Quarter with a Vietnamese friend and she recommended we try egg coffee. She pointed out a building nearby (Cafe Dinh) and sent us on our way. Slightly suspicious, we walked into the ground floor entrance and were greeted by a dimly-lit alley/hallway that led us towards the back of the building and a set of old narrow stairs. Up we went and entered the cafe, which was a small room (about 20 feet by 15 feet) but filled with somewhere between 15-30 people. Attached to this room was a smaller room, maybe 1/3 the size, and then beyond this was a small balcony overlooking the street from which we had just entered. We were the only foreigners in a room packed with young Vietnamese that all clearly knew what to do, where to sit, and how to order. Before we could flee this scene, which was absent of any obvious available seating, an older women came rushing over and set down 3 small plastic stools in front of us (these tiny stools are less than a foot tall and completely ubiquitous in Vietnam). Two stools to serve as seats and one to act as a table. Within 30 seconds of taking these tiny seats, which were placed close to the middle of the room, the same woman had made the customers on the balcony squeeze over and motioned us over to occupy the newly formed space. We were slightly embarrassed, but did not decline her kindness.
After a short wait a young man appeared to take our order… in English. They had clearly found a staff member that spoke English to help us, even though we were fully prepared with the correct vocabulary and pronunciation to give our orders in Vietnamese. Regardless of any trepidation I may have had, I still tasted the creamy-looking egg coffee that arrived after Michelle ordered it (I have no problem admitting that I ordered a black coffee!) It was truly tasty, but in my opinion was something better enjoyed with a spoon, as thick as it was. We sat back and enjoyed our hot drinks on a day with bright sunshine and 90 degree heat.