Necessity is the mother of invention
- Plato, Republic
Let's rewind to the days when Vietnam underwent war, an interminable war with the Americans, French, their own extremists and North of Vietnam fighting with the South. This transpired between 1954 and 1975. That's twenty one years of conflict! In times such as those, food was always rationed, be it for the armed forces or the local folks' share.
The advent of 'Egg Coffee' was brought about by Mr. Nyugen Van Giang who was a bartender at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel, Hanoi in 1946. The supply of milk was sporadic and the need for a strong substitute was dire. In rolls the Egg Yolk - but as Nyugen Van Dao (son of Van Giang) recalls, it wasn't as unruffled (pun intended) as it seems today. Eliminating the whiff of raw egg was no picnic. Van Deo explains how there was a bit of something else that needed to be added to the butter + cheese + condensed milk & coffee powder concoction - which is a house secret. The local name of Egg Coffee is ca phe trung, which in Vietnamese means iced coffee (ca phe) and egg (trung)
Traditional Vietnamese Coffee is served either iced or hot and mostly black. For local coffee shops, the addition of milk means providing a thin layer of condensed milk at the bottom that slowly congregates with the coffee above supplying the perfect merger of subtle sweetness; simultaneously diluting the strong character of black coffee by a few notches. In an Egg Coffee the idea is to serve creamy meringue-like dense froth perched over a strong shot of Robusta. It is recommended that you stir your coffee so as to indulge in the perfect mix of egg and coffee, but note that one cannot resist dousing a spoon into that foam with the coffee where it reminds you of Tiramisu.
Giangs' offer at least ten different variations of its Egg Coffee along with some other traditional Vietnamese recipes:
- ca cao trung (egg coffee with chocolate)
- matcha trung (egg coffee with matcha)
- dau xanh trung (egg coffee with green beans)
- rum trung ca cao / rum trung ca phe (egg coffee with rum and chocolate / rum and coffee)
- sua da chanh (milk with lemon and ice)
- sua chua ca cao / ca phe (yogurt with chocolate / coffee)
Another detail that needs underlining is the coffee bean being used in Vietnamese Coffee - the Robusta. Robusta is locally grown all across the Central Highlands, especially in the regions of Dak Lak, Lam Dong, Dak Nong and Gia Lai. In the quality index of global coffee, Robusta comes second only to Arabica. Thus the local chains like Trung Nyugen, Phuc Long, Highlands and some new players such as Passio, Thuc, Cong Cafe all offer blend of Robusta, Arabica and the lesser known, but competent Chari variety.
Giangs' has now become an icon of the Hanoi Old Quarter with Hoan Kiem lake in picturesque proximity. Many a food tour group make the mandatory stop on their route and Nyugen Van Dao claims not a single one of their customers ever has not NOT liked the Egg Coffee. The inconspicuous entrance, a tunnel like entry leading to an easy lounging space where couches and tables overlook an open kitchen, here the egg yolks are whipped continuously in a blender while members of the staff revolve up and down for service like clockwork. The upper stretch is bright, laden with low lying wooden table and stools, buzzing with locals and tourists at any and all times of the day.
Egg Coffee stands as a specialty proudly belonging to Hanoi as establishments start to replicate it. Dinh Cafe at Hoan Kiem lake is owned and run by Mr. Van Dao's sister, is another place known to extend some ca phe trung.
Cafe Giang : 39 Nyugen Huu Huan, Ly Thai To, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi.
To know more about Cafe Giang and their Egg Coffee watch our latest episode of 'I Was Here - Vietnam'
Day seven, no Chai, but #EggCoffee is keeping me alive. Tried at least over a dozen, but the one at Ca Phe Giang is the dopest, creamiest and the original one with a bona fide back-story. P.s : this shot is from neighbouring Ca Phe Trung since Giang doesn't use transparent cups. #IWasHere #MediumandRare #CafeGiang #vietnam #Hanoi #coffee #food #foodphotography