Curious concoctions

Egg coffee or egg beer may seem unnatural combinations but somehow they work well together.

By Le Diem on May 16,2019 03:28 PM

Curious concoctions

Photos: Le Diem

“If a man ordered a beer milkshake, he’d better do it in a town where he wasn’t known. But then, if a man with a beard ordered a beer milkshake in a town where he wasn’t known, they might call the police.” These were the thoughts of Doc, the main character in American writer John Steinbeck’s 1945 novel Cannery Row. If Doc was born more than half a century later, he could go to Hanoi, order a beer milkshake plus some eggs without any concerns about someone calling the cops. He could comfortably sit with others and drink the unusual beverage, which is known as “egg beer” and a favorite among many local people and even tourists.

What would a beer milkshake taste like? Would it curdle like milk? Do you have to add sugar? Doc was haunted by the concept of a beer milkshake after a friend made a joke about it when talking about his love of beer.

Others, years later, clearly also wondered about it. Nguyen Chi Hoa from Hanoi also had the idea of putting milk and eggs into a glass of beer. As he owned a café, he just went ahead and made one.

At first he kept it to himself, and didn’t really think about putting it on the menu. One day in 2000, though, a customer asked him about his curious-looking drink and asked if he could try it. Egg beer then appeared on Hoa’s menu and soon became the house specialty of the famous Giang Café, one of the oldest cafés in Hanoi. The recipe for his beer milkshake is simple and easy. It includes egg yolk, condensed milk, cream, and butter, placed in a mixing bowl and whisked until it’s pale and foamy. The mixture is then put into a glass and served with a can of beer on the side, to pour in as you see fit.

“Surprisingly yummy” is the first impression of most customers. “I was a bit nervous when I saw egg beer on the menu,” said German tourist Selly Naouma, who ordered a glass at the café. “It’s quite strange, as we don’t have it at home even though Germany has many types of beer. But it surprised me right from the first taste. It’s more like a dessert. I like it.” The proportion of the ingredients is what makes it taste so great, according to Hoa, and he can change it for different customers. “For example, Vietnamese women usually like it a bit sweeter while foreigners often prefer just a little sweetness or none at all,” he told The Guide. “I know how to get it just right.”

Thanks to his father, who was a bartender at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel a long time ago, Hoa has a good “feel” for drinks. He hasn’t read Cannery Row, and didn’t know that raw eggs used to be mixed with beer and wine in the Middle Ages and again in the 17th century in England to make a Syllabub, a popular dessert beverage made from whipping raw egg whites with cream and wine and then letting the mixture curdle overnight. A common flu or cold medicine at the time was posset - a sort of proto-eggnog made by whipping eggs with cream, sugar, spices, and beer or wine into a thin custard. The combination of beer and eggs also carried over to colonial America, where the flip became fashionable, a frothy cocktail that’s still popular today and made from alcohol mixed with sugar, spices, and egg. Hoa, meanwhile, just loves beer and the idea just struck him one day. It didn’t take him too long to experiment and come up with a great new concoction.

It’s the same with egg rum, another common drink in Vietnam. Inspired by a cream liqueur from South Africa, a gift from his son-in-law after a business trip, Hoa wanted to offer him a Vietnamese creamy liquor in return. His gift was welcomed not only by his son-in-law but also by his customers, especially those from southern Europe such as France, Spain, and Italy.

Together with alcoholic egg drinks, other non-alcohol egg drinks can be found at Giang Café, such as chocolate, cinnamon, bean powder, and matcha (Japanese green tea powder). Each can be served hot or cold. “Some may think we put egg in everything, but it’s not true,” he laughed. “Not everything goes well with egg. I had to experiment to find out what’s best. For example, Vietnamese rice wine or other liquors don’t work, but rum does because its aroma comes out when mixed with egg.”

Hoa’s special egg drinks are “descendants” of the renowned egg coffee his father first made, which makes Giang Café the birthplace of this other special egg drink.

The recipe for his beer milkshake is simple and easy. It includes egg yolk, condensed milk, cream, and butter, placed in a mixing bowl and whisked until it’s pale and foamy. The mixture is then put into a glass and served with a can of beer on the side, to pour in as you see fit.

The recipe for his beer milkshake is simple and easy. It includes egg yolk, condensed milk, cream, and butter, placed in a mixing bowl and whisked until it’s pale and foamy. The mixture is then put into a glass and served with a can of beer on the side, to pour in as you see fit.

In the early 20th century, coffee was brought to Vietnam by the French, and considered luxurious drinks only the wealthy could afford. Hoa’s father, Nguyen Van Giang, had the idea of using egg instead of cream and milk, which were scarce and expensive at the time, to mix with coffee for a tasty drink that suited the wallets and purses of nearly everyone. After both Vietnamese and foreigners fell for the unusual coffee and its buttery flavor and aroma from the egg, he quit his job and opened Giang Café in 1946.

Seventy-three years later, although his special drink has been copied widely by other establishments in Hanoi, Giang’s recipe is still regarded as the best and became something of a symbol of Vietnam’s capital. At the recent DPRK-US Summit, egg coffee from Giang Café was served free to about 3,000 journalists covering the event.

This was the first time it was served outside of its home in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. As chic cafés spring up everywhere, Giang Café has retained its traditional look, with wooden tables, chairs and sofas and black & white photos that are 30 to 50 years old.

Every day the café welcomes dozens of visitors, both Vietnamese and foreigners, to either enjoy their favorite drink or satisfy their curiosity about eggs in beverages.

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