Located inside a small dark alley on Hàng Gai street, Cà Phê Phố Cổ is a hidden gem in the middle of the city. VNS Photo Bảo Ngọc
Located in a small dark alley on Hàng Gai street, Cà Phê Phố Cổ is a hidden cafe in the middle of the capital. Visitors come here for the famous egg coffee and the exotic architecture preserved from a century ago.
By Bảo Ngọc
Around Hoàn Kiếm Lake, there are quite a few "hidden cafes', which are difficult for even connoisseurs to find. The way to these shops can be mysterious, usually located in the small attics of old buildings, or in the middle of busy businesses that obscure them.
Tucked away deep inside a small alley on Hàng Gai Street, Cà Phê Phố Cổ (Old Quarter Cafe) is a strange place for first-timers.
Visiting this hidden gem on an autumn Monday morning, leaving behind all the hustle and bustle of Hà Nội's streets, I was surprised by this quiet space, isolated from the outside world.
The courtyard inside is spacious, originally the yard of an old villa with many details such as stairs, columns, and ancient mossy terraces.
According to the staff, the cafe is owned by the family of painter Nguyễn Tuấn and has been built for nearly 100 years.
While the first floor is an open space for people to admire the owners' ancient statues, paintings and ceramics, the second floor is a closed space with wooden tables and chairs for those who love the cosy atmosphere. As a place to have coffee and drinks, the ancient family shrine on the second floor is a highlight where visitors like to pose for photos.
The interior of the cafe has been kept intact from the last century. VNS Photo Bảo Ngọc
The cafe offers more seating on the upper floors. Guided by the staff, I followed the curved bridge that looks a bit like Thê Húc Bridge on Hoàn Kiếm Lake on the third floor and discovered a green space with many trees and paintings by the cafe owner, an artist.
“The secret of the cafe is located on the top floor,” a waiter told me. She then led me up a small spiral staircase to the terrace that, according to The New York Times gives “a sweeping view over thousands of motorbikes on their circumambulation around Hoàn Kiếm Lake.”
Most of the cafe's customers are elderly locals. They come here to hang out with friends and enjoy the famous egg coffee.
Vietnamese diners are familiar with famous coffee brands around the lake and Nguyễn Hữu Huân Street that serve egg coffee. Once a luxury drink, this speciality is appearing more and more in coffee shops around Hà Nội.
A standard cup of egg coffee will have a thick yellow egg layer on top, and below is pure coffee to neutralize the greasy taste. Though the same drink, each store has its own way of preparing it.
At Old Quarter Cafe, egg coffee is made from ground coffee beans and egg yolks. This famous drink of the shop has a shiny golden colour and comes in a small cup. Diners are always provided with an extra spoon to enjoy the creamy foam on top as an "appetizer" before drinking the coffee below.
A standard cup of egg coffee will have a thick yellow egg layer on top, and pure coffee below to neutralize the greasy taste. — Photo courtesy of Cà Phê Phố Cổ
To keep the drink hot, the waiter will place your coffee in a bowl of warm water. After being poured through the whipped cream foam from the egg, the solid coffee flavour that remains at the bottom of the cup is somewhat stronger.
Inspired by the traditional cappuccino, egg coffee was created in the 1950s. Stemming from the scarcity of fresh milk at that time, the inventor of this drink devised a way to use egg yolks as an alternative. Later, egg coffee became a speciality of Hà Nội.
In addition to traditional egg coffee, the Old Quarter Cafe also has egg cocoa. Made from beaten eggs and coated with cocoa powder on top, this fluffy drink is perfect for cold weather and those who cannot drink coffee but still want to try the delicious custardy cream.
Different from the creamy-bitter taste of egg coffee, egg cocoa offers a sweet-smooth taste and the typical aroma of cocoa.
Drink prices here are quite reasonable, VNĐ45,000 for a cup of egg coffee and VNĐ30-50,000 for smoothies, shakes, sundaes and beer.
With the interior still intact from the last century and the menu mainly featuring traditional drinks, this Hà Nội Old Quarter cafe is an ideal destination for those who love to explore Hà Nội's culture and tranquillity.
Come here in winter, and do not forget to order a cup of the famous egg coffee and enjoy the ancient atmosphere of this wonderful hidden gem. VNS