The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us.Ashley Montagu
As we moved through the dark streets of Hanoi on a tour of street food with a chef for a guide, everything was surprising: the crowds at the Night Market, women cooking pho from pots carried on rods over their shoulders, and fermented eggs wrapped in straw-like cover.
But it was Egg Coffee that proved to be the surprise of the evening.
Our tour guide (a woman who valued authentic experiences for her clients) led us up a steep, narrow set of stairs to a cramped but friendly little coffee shop, Coffee Dinh, a popular place where coffee — and only coffee — was served. At first glance, we wondered if we could find a seat on the squat-legged, barely-off-the-floor plastic stools. While we stood waiting for a seat, the manager greeted us and assured us we were in for a special Vietnamese treat, popular with locals: egg coffee.
I kept wondering what egg coffee could be. Would it have an egg scrambled into a steamy cup of dark roasted coffee? Would it taste strange — that combination of egg and coffee? It was called ca phe trung but the name told me little of what I was about to sample. And, to make matters more intimidating, I would be sipping this egg coffee in front of someone I’d never met, seated in small, tight quarters.
The manager invited me to lean in and see how egg coffee was made. A young girl whisked an egg yolk into sweetened condensed milk (for almost 10 minutes), creating an interesting yellowish creamy, frothy topping for the hot coffee. Then she carefully, artfully, directed a knife blade through the mixture in the white cup to create a drink I’d remember for a long, long time to come.
And so it was that I sat on a small plastic stool facing a young man who spoke more English than I spoke Vietnamese and sipped one of the sweetest coffees I’ve ever had — and may ever have again.
My surprise wasn’t just a cup of egg coffee served in Hanoi.
My surprise was the realization that this was good. Really good!
Be sure to see the original Lens-Artists Challenge #103: Surprise by Leya and the other entries that are linked to her post this week. There are plenty of surprises all around!