As I come out from my latest shopping spree at Bookworm, I can’t wait to start reading my new book. I decide to make my way to Ngo Quan, a nearby Vietnamese coffee house recommended by a friend.
Out front there is a small terrace, perfect to watch, sheltered, the bustling life of Chau Long Street and its market. Come inside, pass the first room and you find yourself on a staircase and then in another typical Vietnamese room, where you find the house’s real gem, a little courtyard, a small peaceful garden surrounded by artwork. A green spiral staircase winds its way to a shaded fourth sitting area, more private and secluded.
Today is one of those perfect autumn days to sit outside and enjoy the nicer weather while sipping on a coffee. The city noises are far away and muffled. I can hear the laughter of children, the barking of a dog, the small twitter of dancing birds in their wooden cages, and a small breeze singing through the bamboo chime.
The drinks here sit on an extended list of cheap Vietnamese coffees and teas or smoothies (from VND25,000 to VND80,000). With 26 different Vietnamese and flower teas on offer, the selection is impressive. It’s the only part of the menu without translation and you will need to be an adventurer to order blindly, but certainly there’s a reward to discovering the taste of these rare concoctions. Later after more research online and with the help of some friends, I break the code. There is pretty much everything, from the classic jasmine and Oolong tea to the most surprising tea made of with the dried sprout from the lotus flower seed (tam sen luc vi).
Egg Coffee and Avocado Smoothies
However, I have been told the must here is the egg coffee and avocado smoothie. I order the first and settle on one of the simple small dark wooden tables to read my latest acquisition.
I can hear Ms. Nhung, the owner, grinding the coffee and vigorously whisking away the egg in the kitchen. The egg coffee arrives in a tall glass that shows the generosity of the serving — two thirds of the drink is a frothy mixture of egg yolk and sweet condensed milk sat on top of the strong, black aromatic coffee.
I eat (yes eat!) the fluffy mousse on top. Though it’s flirting with sickly sweet territory, this ultimate sugar high gives me energy for the rest of the day. I am no specialist in egg coffee, but this feels like a really good one to me.
Time flies by when you read a good book, and the day is slowly fading. So I move from the courtyard to the front of the house. I order the avocado smoothie. The green creaminess is really good — I can sense the tasty coconut cream that complements the avocado. After all this sweet goodness, I don’t think I will need to eat dinner. I certainly won’t be going to bed early.
Ngo Quan is not one of these young hipster, Pinterest perfect coffee shops (even though I love to go and photograph these). It’s an authentic Vietnamese coffee house with lovely owners and a nice dog, nestled on a lively street. An overlooked café perfect for people-watching, a good conversation or a quiet read. — Julie Vola
Ngo Quan is at 51 Chau Long, Ba Dinh, Hanoi