By: Phan Thanh Truc
Recently, I was lucky enough to take a field trip to Ha Noi, in which I had the opportunity to explore many interesting things. In my experience, the most amazing way to discover Ha Noi’s unique culture was not to visit its historic museums, or wander about the street, or visit famous pagodas. In fact, it was taking a sip of egg-coffee in an old house that proved a perfect introduction to the ancient capital.
Turn back to the old days in a coffee house
The first time visiting a coffee house in Ha Noi, my curiosity grew when I was led to an extremely small and low-roofed house. The more than 100-hundred-year old house looked like an old and cranky chair which had not been used for a long time and was left alone in a corner of an antique store. There was neither a signboard nor any visible signs telling people that this place was a coffee house. Surprisingly, it turned out this place was one of the four most famous coffee houses in the capital.
We climbed the stairs and entered the second floor, which was foggy with from cigarette smoke and incense. Being here, time seemed to have stood still. The stained yellow walls, milk cans from the old days, stainless steel funnels and the black and white pictures brought us back to hundred years ago, when people did not have to drink coffee in a hurry to keep up with the modern industrialized pace. A time when they still had enough time to wait for every drop of the brown liquid from the ill-shaped filter and appreciate every gulp. There was something peaceful and quiet in the atmosphere, which made us whisper. People here seemed to do nothing, no chatting, no reading nor listening to music. It was a tranquil yet strange thing, drinking coffee in an ancient house in Ha Noi.
Egg-coffee – the traditional drink of an ancient city
The most special drink of most long-standing cafés in Ha Noi is egg-coffee. The sweet fragrance of egg with the aroma of coffee captivated us immediately. The unique taste, a hint of sweetness with bitterness of the coffee lingered on the palate. It was hard to say whether the cup was actually tasty or not. The fragrance and taste, coupled with the atmosphere made the whole experience seem something of a distant past, when people were not busy running after the clock, when they enjoyed a cup of coffee for as long as they wanted.
At that moment, I thought I knew why old-time coffee houses like this one became one of the most popular features in Ha Noi, and still are to this day. Even though this coffee house was old, dark and plain, it carried a special and captivating tacit charm, which inveigled people who once walked in to keep coming again and again.