On my recent food tour to Vietnam, I was ready to experience new flavors, but coffee wasn’t even remotely on my mind. I’d sipped the bold, espresso-style coffee sweetened with condensed milk served at local eateries, and it’s delicious. But in Hanoi, a poster in a coffee shop caught my attention. I couldn’t read it, but it had a picture of a broken egg next to a cup of joe.
I asked my tour leader, who said, “Yes, egg coffee is popular in Vietnam, especially in Hanoi.”
The next morning at breakfast, I picked up Le Petit Journal, a newsletter furnished by the hotel where I was staying. One article focused on Hanoi Egg Coffee, a drink created by a bartender at the hotel in the 1940s.
Milk was scarce in Vietnam in 1946, so whisked egg yolk was used as a replacement, the article said. A unique recipe for ca phe trung (egg coffee) was created, and today, only one cafe uses that original recipe: the famous Giang Café in Hanoi.
How could I be in Hanoi and not try this novel drink? I grabbed a cab and started down one of the busiest streets in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, eventually veering down a narrow alley to the small, almost-hidden cafe. It was packed with people squatted on tiny chairs, sipping cups of foam-topped coffee. No stools were open, so I was waved up a spiral staircase to a larger, still packed room, where I sat on an open stool with my knees almost touching my chin. A spot on an American-sized bench soon opened, which I shared with other tourists and finally ordered.
I was rewarded with a delicious coffee that tasted like warm tiramisu. The egg yolk is whisked and frothed raw, then the foam is added to the cup. Thick, strong coffee poured over the top sinks to the bottom. Because the yolk is raw, the cup is served in a bowl of hot water, which continues to warm and cook the egg. A tiny spoon is provided, encouraging you to enjoy the unique coffee experience by sipping it. Such a memorable treat!
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