After a hard night’s drinking in Hanoi, we decided to go in search of some coffee. Vietnam is one of the biggest coffee exporters in the world after all.
Ruth had heard about Vietnamese “egg coffee” from The Coffee Trail with Simon Reeve and I remembered reading John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, in which he meets a stranger on the road and brews him the perfect coffee by adding egg:
“I cracked an egg and cupped out the yolk and dropped white and shells into the pot, for I know nothing that polishes coffee and makes it shine like that.”
We looked in a lot of coffee shops, including the multiple-terraced Highlands Coffee and City View Cafe, but none of them had it. About to give up and wandering aimlessly down Hàng Gai in the Old Quarter, we spotted a faded sign that read “Radio Coffee” above a thin, ill-lit alley-esque corridor that opened into a courtyard resembling an old lady’s living room, complete with rusty sewing machine and dusty china dolls. Some kid came out of a side-door and – still unsure whether we were in somebody’s house – we asked if they had egg coffee.
We climbed up two storeys on a rickety spiral staircase where you had to dodge dripping water, and emerged on a two-tiered terrace with beautiful views of Hoàn Kiếm lake, with the whole place to ourselves.
Now I’m not a great coffee lover at the best of times and the idea of raw egg in my drink (with the obvious exception of a pisco sour) was a little off-putting, but the Drinking Traveller’ll drink anything once, and when the egg coffee (cà phê trung in Vietnamese) arrived, it was absolutely amazing: creamy, sweet and frothy. I couldn’t wait to get another one and would definitely recommend it to anyone.
The place started to fill up until there was barely a table free. Afterwards we found out that this place was Cafe Phố Cổ, which appears in Lonely Planet as:
“One of Hanoi’s best-kept secrets, this place has plum views over Hoan Kiem Lake. Enter through the silk shop, and continue through the antique-bedecked courtyard up to the top floor for the mother of all vistas. You’ll need to order coffee and snacks before tackling the final winding staircase. For something deliciously different, try the caphe trung da, coffee topped with a silkily smooth beaten egg white.”
And, if you’re still not satisfied, there’s always bia trung (egg beer)!