I'm certain that the easy availability of a cup or iced glass of rich chocolate-y coffee almost any time of the day or night, for the equivalent of an American dollar or less has helped make Vietnam such a popular tourist destination. The language is difficult to master, travel can be a hassle and the locals can be at times, um, crusty. But no matter where in Vietnam you find yourself good coffee is likely to be within reach.
While in Hanoi last August Dave and I must have each downed eight or more glasses a day. It's easy to roll out of bed at the crack of dawn when you know a nice coffee is steps from your hotel. It's easy to keep moving in the wilting heat when there's always a glass of the iced stuff nearby to restart your motor. At home we're generally a.m. coffee drinkers only but when we're in Vietnam coffee is an integral part of our entire day.
In Hanoi we found two more reasons to love Vietnamese coffee: ca phe trung (egg coffee) and ca phe sua chua (yogurt coffee).
Both were introduced to us by Hanoi Cooking Centre chef and proprietor (and co-author of a beautiful new book on Vietnamese street food) Tracey Lister. We'd gone to Hanoi to do a story on HCC and its Vietnamese staff, and the evening we arrived we met up with Tracey to lay plans for the week. She suggested we meet at Cafe Pho Co on Hang Gai street. The entry is a souvenir shop but behind is a lovely bordering-on-crumbling building whose breezy rooftop offers one of the best views in Hanoi.
The hour dictated beer but as we drank Tracey told us about the house specialty, a concoction of raw egg whipped with coffee that she described as something akin to warm coffee custard. Ca phe trung has been a Hanoi drink for generations and Cafe Pho Co has been serving it for decades. It's a morning libation, though the cafe serves it throughout the day. As difficult as Ca Phe Pho Co can be to locate, their ca phe trung justifies the effort.
I'd equate the beverage to my mother's warm eggnog, sans the booze and nutmeg and shot through with notes of caramel and chocolate. It's part dessert (though it's not cloyingly sweet), part restorative caffeinated beverage. It's also reminiscent of wonderful egg-enriched tea we once drank at a food market in western Sumatra (read about the tea and see how to make it here).
There's no reason not to adore a hot ca phe trung (we also tried it iced but found that the drink doesn't benefit from dilution), although the caloric content probably dictates restricted consumption. I can't imagine a more delicious way with eggs and coffee.
A few days later, after a gut-busting lunch at HCC, Tracey took us to Cafe My to try ca phe sua chua. Coffee with yogurt is a more recent invention than egg coffee, it seems, and you'll see signs for it all over town. But Cafe My is an old, not at all trendy shop known for the high quality of its beans (it also inspired a Cafe My chain).
Its lightly sweetened yogurt is especially rich, which makes it the best place to down this treat. It's an inspired and fantastically refreshing combo (opening photo), the light bitterness of the coffee bouncing off the creamy sweetness of the yogurt. We returned to Cafe My specifically for this specialty, which we sometimes preceded with glasses of iced coffee, several times before we left Hanoi.
On one visit a downpour commenced just as we were finishing our coffee yogurts. We'd not brought umbrellas so had no choice but to mine the rest of the yogurt section of Cafe My's menu.
The slightly alcoholic fermented red rice with yogurt (above) received thumbs up from Dave, but while I loved the rice's chewy texture I was ambivalent about its flavor. I'm generally a fermented foods gal, but I wasn't entirely won over by this one.
Creamy ripe avocado mashed with creamy fresh yogurt -- what's not to love about Cafe My's avocado yogurt? Nothing really, except a disappointing mildness flavor that's especially pronounced after you've tried a coffee yogurt.