On my first day in Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, I saw a sign for egg coffee. Obviously, I had to try some. What they gave me was nothing like what I had been expecting.
The History of Egg Coffee
Did you know that Vietnam is the second-top country in the world for coffee production? I didn’t before I visited. Their total output is nearly 4 billion pounds of coffee beans a year – second only to Brazil – and they also produce 40% of the world’s robusta coffee, the alternate to arabica beans (for those who know coffee). With so much stock on hand, it’s no wonder that some new twists would be added to one of the nation’s top drinks.
In 1946, a man named Nguyen Giang created the first cup of what he called egg coffee. Eggs were just one of the ingredients he used to create a frothy, latte-style top to an espresso. Other ingredients included cheese, sugar, condensed milk…and a secret ingredient that he has no intention of ever sharing. What’s surprising about his recipe is that it doesn’t really taste like egg. But neither does custard or even really mayonnaise for that matter. Just think of his concoction as a Vietnamese tiramisu…without the biscuit and chocolate. You can even add a touch of rum to egg coffee if you like, just like the marsala wine that’s sometimes added to the Italian dessert.
Discovering the Real Egg Coffee in Hanoi
Since 1946, hundreds (if not thousands) of cafes have tried to copy Nguyen Giang’s creation. I tried a couple myself and they were good, but not mind-blowing like the two cups I had at each of the cafes run by Nguyen Giang’s son and daughter. The first cafe, called Café Giang and run by his son, is located on the east side of the Hanoi Old Quarter. The second cafe, called Café Đinh and run by his daughter, is located just a few feet from the main square of the Old Quarter! Yet despite the wildly touristy locations of both cafes, I was surprised to see hardly any tourists in either cafe. It seems the locals have kept the best places for themselves, leaving the tourists to experience second-rate egg coffee at other cafes in town.
As Nguyen Giang directed his own customers, you should mix in the foamy topping into the coffee before drinking to get the full balance of flavors. Vietnamese cuisine is all about the perfect pairing of flavors, and egg coffee is a great example of that. The coffee beans used by these two cafes are their own roasts. I was surprised at how good the quality was, especially after being spoiled by several cafes around the world. With the topping mixed in, the coffee became rich and creamy, but not as strong as a good, thick custard. It was all I could do to stop myself from ordering seconds, thirds and fourths, especially when a single cup only ran for only $0.65!
Enjoying Egg Coffee and Other Vietnamese Dishes on a Food Tour
I would never have found either cafe if it weren’t for my food tour with Lan, which I booked through Trazy Tours. The egg coffee was just one of eight amazing dishes I tried on the three-hour tour. I have to admit, I’ve never been a big fan of Vietnamese food, which goes back to a couple of times in the states when I had dishes that just weren’t that good. The tour completely changed my opinion, and Lan brought me to places which demonstrated just how good Vietnamese cuisine could be. I can’t wait to go back myself to devour some more egg coffee, pho (pronounced fah), spring rolls, meat buns and all the other wonderful meals there.