Sunday, November 24, 2013

Egg Coffee, Bun Cha and Kem Caramem: The Lesser Known Gems of Vietnam

Some of our new favorites in life were found in Hanoi, the first city we visited in Vietnam.  We were overwhelmed by the city's motorcycle mayhem in the streets and sought moments of peace whenever possible.

We found some in a hidden cafe, tucked behind a clever T-shirt company at 11 Hang Gai.  Walk past the shirts (the designs are so unique!), down the dark alley, and find yourself in the comfort of a calming courtyard tastefully cluttered with Asian ceramics.

Place your order at the foot of the stairwell - the egg coffee is a recommend, and ascend another set of spiral stairs.

Unless you want to sit on the cute little mezzanine (adorable also!). 

 But the real prize are the few tables on the rooftop overlooking the Lake of the Restored Sword (Hoan Kiem).

Our drinks arrived quickly.  The mango shake was tall, slightly sweet and refreshing.

And the egg coffee was particularly thick and foamy.  Egg coffee is essentially espresso with an unbelievable layer of egg sabayon - the result tastes simply like liquid tiramisu.  It's wonderful and completely unique to Hanoi.  

Early in our trip, we had taken a tour with a couple representatives from Hanoi Kids, a neat little program where university students function as free tour guides in exchange for practicing their English.  Of course, our tour was lean on the cultural facts, and heavy on socialization and food recommendations.  We asked our guides what their favorite food was, and both answered, "Bun cha."  From this, I am just going to make the wild assertion that everyone's favorite food in Hanoi is bun cha.  It is now ours too.

The best bun cha place is a taxi ride away from the Old Quarter at a place called Bun Cha 34.

Bun cha is primarily served at lunchtime, and the streets are perfumed with the smell of grilled meats during this hour.  Bun Cha 34 was packed with workers on their lunchbreak, squatting on plastic chairs in their dress shirts, and stuffing their face with porky goodness.

An order of bun cha comes with a radiant assortment of herbs and springy vermicelli noodles.  

Thick strips of grilled pork belly and grilled pork patties are served in a bowl of warm fish sauce.  Then to eat, you take the vermicelli noodles and any herbs with your chopsticks, immerse it in the bowl of fish sauce, grab some meat, and eat !  It's simple.  It's fun.  And it's really good !  The fish sauce is very mild - almost like a broth, and the meat just brilliantly charred.

The egg rolls make a popular addition also.  Though greasy, they are crackly and crispy, filled with more pork (just can't get enough!) and glass noodles.

Though absolutely bustling, there's really no rush or pressure to finish your meal quickly here.  Everyone meanders through their meal at a leisurely place, and it's somewhat relaxing even though you're only steps away from the curbside.  It's sad to know that we probably will never get to eat this again, until our next visit to Vietnam, but I've bookmarked some recipes to replicate it in the meantime (stay tuned).

After you finish licking your lips from the succulence of your lunch, walk a few steps across the street to Kem Caramen.  There's a slew of creme caramel spots along this street, but the bright red banner of this one caught our eye.

For bout a US dollar, you get a creme caramel and a fluffy egg chiffon cake.  The cake is nice, astoundingly fluffy and as light as air.

But it's the creme caramel that is what you should come for.  They open up a plastic container, plop it on a plate, and you basically just swallow the dessert whole because it just goes down that easy.  Slightly bitter and creamy, it's a refreshing dessert on the warm afternoon.

Everyone just buys bagfuls of this stuff.  I can completely understand why!

It's hard to start sharing these favorite spots with you because the posts take twice as long to write - I am too distracted by the photos and the memories.  Hopefully they are inspiring you to visit my home country soon !

Han's Nonsensical Rating: Dude.  Just look at the pictures.  Go.

Cafe Pho Co
11 Hang Gai

Bun Cha 34
34 Hàng Than, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi

Kem Caramen
29 Hang Than


  1. I love street vendors and markets! I also just returned from a family visit in HK and I miss the dim sum vendors and cha chan tang so, so much.

  2. new goal in life: get some egg coffee!!

  3. I found your blog through Tabelog! Great food blog and I absolutely your photography. Looking forward to reading the rest of your blog. Please feel free to check out my blog:

    1. thanks so much for reading, jessica ! your blog looks great too - i've been eyeing hearth !!