Pho, egg coffee and beer hoi — some of the most popular gastronomical delights sought out by visitors to Vietnam.
Pho, a fragrant, piquant noodle soup, is practically the national dish of Vietnam. Beer hoi refers to street-side stalls where tourist and locals alike hunker down on kindergarten-sized plastic stools and enjoy beers for as low as 5,000 dong (about 22 cents). Conversation flows as freely as the beer.
Egg coffee is a delicacy consisting of a white, meringue-like egg topping with robust Vietnamese coffee underneath. According to the Guardian, it was “invented in 1946 at Hanoi’s Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel. At the time, milk was scarce in Vietnam so whisked egg yolk was used as a replacement for café au lait and cappuccino-type drinks which were in demand by the French occupiers.”
Egg coffee remains a national pride to this day. The son of its inventor still makes it from the authentic recipe at his popular Giang café.
If you are looking for adult versions of Vietnamese cuisine, pho-inspired cocktails can be found in various bars in Hanoi, including the renowned one at the Unicorn Pub.
As for a loaded egg coffee, I was pleasantly surprised to find an interesting variation combining Vietnam’s love of beer and coffee in one glass.
The discovery came while visiting one of Hanoi’s most famous Instagram sites, Train Street, where, instead of pavement, a single train track runs through the narrow corridor. Passing diesels roar by, inches from homes and shops. Everyone packs up and ducks inside until they pass. The routine repeats throughout the day.
In between the locomotives’ scheduled arrivals, tourists pose for photos. An abundance of cafés serve drinks and food.
So, when my Instagram-crazy friend Ben Whittaker came to visit, this was one of the first places I showed him. It was there that I noticed on a menu, along with a selection of local brews, an entry for egg beer that intrigued me.
Ben was given his bottled beer immediately, while I waited in anticipation. I heard the sound of beating eggs first, followed by an electric mixer. I watched the woman in the café diligently working like a Christmas elf as her bowl filled with a frothy white substance and the smell of sugar cookies filled the air.
She carefully spooned the fluffy, cloudlike mixture into a big mug and placed it on my trackside table along with a Hanoibranded beer. I watched as she delicately poured the beer to top off the mug without destroying the billowy foam.
The result was a large floating island of meringue; the beer settled nicely on the bottom. It was so thick and fluffy, I needed a spoon to scoop a piece off the top.
The flavor of condensed milk and vanilla melted in my mouth. As I tilted my glass to take a sip, some beer poured through the feather-like meringue to create a silky taste.
The flavors were paradoxical — bitter, hoppy and fizzy followed sweet pastry dream — but together they mingled for a gleeful taste, akin to having a beer with your birthday cake.
I continued to enjoy my sweet and sharp treat until I was signaled by the owner to move off the patio. Seconds later, I heard a rumble, then felt a breeze passing through my hair as a train sped past me.
Without delay, the cafés began returning tables and chairs to their places and tourists started snapping shots of the last car riding off in the distance. Another typical day in Hanoi.
Making egg beer (or coffee) at home is not difficult, but requires a strong arm or an electric mixer.
Egg Beer Cocktail
1 egg yolk
1 oz. sweetened condensed milk
Dash of vanilla extract
1 beer (your choice)
Put the egg yolks, condensed milk
and vanilla extract in a large mixing
bowl. Whisk with electric beaters for
at least 5 minutes or until pale and
foamy. Spoon mixture into a large
beer mug. Pour beer slowly while
tilting the glass to avoid disturbing
the egg foam.