Lens-Artists Challenge 103: Surprise

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.

Standing in Cafe Dinh are Bert, the store manager, and our tour guide.

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.

An intimate place for coffee and conversation in Hanoi

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.

The art of making egg coffee in Hanoi’s Cafe Dinh.

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!

Travel wide-eyed,


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!

9 thoughts on “Lens-Artists Challenge 103: Surprise

  1. gallivance.net

    It sounds delicious and exotic, Rusha. I’ve heard of the coffe, but never had the chance to sample it. I’m usually willing to try just about anything (well, I do draw the line at bugs and live things), and you’ve proven that it pays to be intrepid. And I love “Travel wide-eyed.” Perfect! 🙂 ~Terri

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      Thank goodness it was better than the name implies. After all, I had to sit face-to-face with someone from Vietnam, and it wouldn’t be very polite to make a face or spew out the coffee!!!! Thx for taking a look. Happy Fourth!!

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      It was a pretty amazing night all together, but when I heard the term “egg coffee,” I never would have guessed that it would be even tolerable let alone delicious. Thanks for taking a look and commenting.

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      It was a yummy surprise — and I’d love to go back again. I wouldn’t be so star struck in the coffee shop — looking around, etc. I’d focus on the coffee, the evening, and the interesting people inside.

  2. pattimoed

    I love that Rusha. Travel wide-eyed. So true. The surprises on the road are so eye-opening. Lovely post. The coffee really does look delicious!

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