I’m starting a new feature on Legal Nomads, where I share a recipe a month from my travels. I’ve been coming home to my mum or visiting my brother and cooking all sorts of new dishes experienced abroad, but I rarely share those here. I’m starting with a new discovery: a Vietnamese egg coffee recipe, a dish that I first tasted in Hanoi.
It sounds fairly strange, no? I had heard of putting eggs in coffee before, mostly from Scandinavian countries where it was used to clarify the brew and generate an amber-coloured cup of coffee with a milder taste. Says Martin Lersch in his post about Norwegian egg coffee:
The addition of proteins while preparing the coffee serves two purposes: 1) it helps the coffee grounds to flocculate, allowing them to sink faster to the bottom of the pot (this effect is probably more pronounced when using eggs) and 2) the proteins bind irreversibly to astringent and bitter tasting polyphenols in coffee to form insoluble complexes that will precipitate. The end result is a clearer coffee with a pleasant and mild taste. The bitterness is only barely noticeable, but the coffee still has enough “body” so it doesn’t feel too thin!
It’s not only Norway, either. Sweden also serves this egg-filled treat. Per I Need Coffee’s Swedish Coffee recipe: “Swedish egg coffee is dead simple to make and the result is a non-bitter, surprisingly light and incredibly smooth cup that combines the wonderful flavor of your favorite roast with a reminiscent aftertaste of toasted cheese (trust me, it sounds strange but it works).”
In contrast, Vietnamese egg coffee (Cà Phê Trứng) is anything but a clearer coffee with a mild taste. As it appears in the photo above, it is essentially a Cadbury Creme Egg with a hint of mocha. So the Vietnamese coffee recipe below isn’t the healthiest, but it’s most definitely a satisfying snack on a cold day.
If you find yourself in Hanoi and want to try the egg coffee above, it is from Cafe Giang, 39 Nguyen Huu Huan street, in the Old Quarter. And it was fabulous. Presently making the coffee at Cafe Giang is Nguyen Van Dao, whose father invented the drink in the mid 1900s when he worked at Hanoi’s Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel. Per a recent piece in The Guardian about the coffee,
“at the time, milk was scarce in Vietnam so whisked egg yolk was used as a replacement. Other Hanoi cafes have attempted to imitate the drink, but the packed venue offering the authentic version is still the most popular spot in town for an egg coffee fix.
I can’t agree more about where to get it!
New Yorkers, you’re in luck: as of 2018 Hanoi House now sells egg coffee, a chance for you to try it in person without traveling oh-so-far. Sara Leveen, who co-founded Hanoi House alongside her partner Ben Lowell notes, as with the Guardian piece above, that “like so many old recipes, it was created out of necessity.” They tried the coffee in Vietnam and it seems were as hooked as I was. Now it’s available for all “liquid tiramisu” lovers in the Tri-State area, in American-sized portions.
The recipe below was given to me by my host family, not Cafe Giang, and I’ve tried it many times. As noted below, I sometimes add almond extract for a bit of a different taste to the blend. Both are delicious. Egg coffee for all!
Vietnamese Egg Coffee Recipe
- 1 egg
- 3 teaspoons of Vietnamese coffee powder (Vietnamese coffee is available on Amazon here)
- 2 teaspoons of sweetened condensed milk
- Boiling water
- Brew a small cup of Vietnamese coffee. (Vietnamese coffee filters available on Amazon here. Also, for visual step-by-step of the brew process, there is a good set of photos explaining how to here.)
- Crack an egg and discard the whites.
- Put the yolk and the sweetened condensed milk in a small, deep bowl and whisk vigorously until you end up with a frothy, fluffy mixture like the one above. Add a tablespoon of the brewed coffee and whisk it in.
- In a clear coffee cup (we’re going for aesthetics here), pour in your brewed coffee, then add the fluffy egg mixture on top.
- Presto. Egg coffee.
Note: a reader, Graham, has tried this at home and says another option is to add the yolk to the coffee with the sweet milk and whisk all together. The foam will then rise to the top.
Note 2: If you don’t want to make it with Vietnamese coffee, an alternative in the USA is Cafe du Monde’s coffee with Chicory from New Orleans. In an interview with Vietnamese-American author and chef Andrea Nguyen, she notes:
Well, when Vietnamese people came to the U.S. in the mid-’70s, many of them settled in New Orleans. Their coffee back home was intense and bitter; the chicory in Café du Monde really matched that flavor, so the people who started working there got a taste of this coffee and started telling others in the community. It was a really small, tight-knit community, so word traveled to all over country.
Readers have reported in that it’s delicious with the chicory blend!
Note 3: A 2015 piece about Cafe Giang in Vice Magazine’s Munchies column gives a bit of background to the cafe, and references that the coffee also contains…cheese. This is different to the recipe above, so I wanted to paste here. It’s the first I’ve heard of it, but I thought I’d include it regardless.
Every day, Café Giang hums with blenders, all churning up eggs, cheese, condensed milk, sugar, and other secret ingredients. It’s the birthplace of Hanoi’s cà phê trứng, or egg coffee. And yes, that means the egg and cheese go in the coffee.
Egg coffee has been a way of life and a livelihood for Tri Hoa Nguyen and his family since shortly after 1946, when Tri’s father Nguyen Giang founded Café Giang and invented the first cup of egg coffee. Because there was a shortage of fresh milk in Vietnam during the French War, most Vietnamese would line the bottom of the cup with condensed milk and pour the coffee on top, and that’s exactly how Vietnamese coffee is served today. But lacking milk, Nguyen whisked in egg as a substitute.
More About Vietnam and its Food
One of the many questions I receive from readers is where I learn about the countries I visit, and how I pick up information when I’m first travelling there. I’ve added the links below to provide more information, both for those who want to travel to Vietnam as well as those who simply want to learn a bit more.
When I meet people who read the site they often say “are you still based in Saigon?” The truth is that I never was for more than a few months a year (2-4 months usually), but I loved my time there so fully that I wrote about it with excitement and joy.
Part of what makes it interesting is the complicated history but also the way that the history of the country deeply intertwines with its food. From the influence of the Chinese, to the French, to the Cham Kingdom and more, the dishes that are present today are a reflection of the people who came and conquered. This is, of course, the same with many other countries.
But it doesn’t make the study of these influences any less fascinating — or delicious.
Books about Vietnamese Food
Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, by Andrea Nguyen. For those who can eat bread (i.e. not celiacs like me), Andrea also has a cookbook about pho (!!) that was just published, called The Pho Cookbook: Easy to Adventurous Recipes for Vietnam’s Favorite Soup and Noodles.
Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table: Recipes and Reminiscences from Vietnams’ Best Market Kitchens, Street Cafes, and Home Cooks, by Mai Pham (Also titled: New Flavours of the Vietnamese Table in the UK)
The Food of Vietnam, by Luke Nguyen.
Vietnam: A History, by Stanley Karnow. (Long, but worth it)
Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam, by Andrew X. Pham (Kindle version here).
Vietnam: A Traveler’s Literary Companion, by John Balaban and Nguyen Qui Duc.
Maps of Vietnamese Food
And for those of you who loved your time in Vietnam, and want to commemorate it at home with something a bit more tangible, please see my hand-drawn, one-of-a-kind Vietnamese maps of food. They’re available in t-shirt and poster form in the Legal Nomads store.
If you have any feedback, please let me know!