Monday, May 28, 2007

a good morning in vietnam

i was told the best way to experience hanoi is to wake up early, that's exactly what i did.

i crackled into action at 6 am sharp, the locals were already limbering up.

i went strolling, absorbing hanoi's old quarter.

vietnam is one of the world's largest coffee exporting nation, but their production is largely focused on poor-quality beans for export as a commodity. coffee was introduced into vietnam by french colonists in the late 19th century.

i planned to greet the new day over strong traditional vietnamese coffee. "ca phe sua nong" literally means 'hot milk coffee'. armed with "a short history of tractors in ukrainian" by marina lewycka, i head for the nearest cafe.

i was very the eksyen that morning; i asked for a "black coffee, no sugar please. thank you." (pfft!)

the waitress looked at me wierd.

when i took my first sip ... umaaakkkkkk aiiiiii!!! the coffee was real strong, like mata boleh juling intensely strong.

it was ca phe sua nong for me, after.


the vietnamese approach to coffee making is unique. for those on the run who slurp on starbucks or coffee beans, this kind of coffee may seem a throwback to a more leisurely era. ordering a cup of vietnamese coffee can make a japanese tea ceremony look speedy.

the coffee is brought to the table in an espresso sized cup but there is no coffee in it. instead, a metal container is perched on top and the espresso sized cup is one-third filled with condensed milk.

do you know how condensed milk came about?

condensed milk hearkens to a time when there was no refrigeration + stored milk was only available sold in cans. it was condensed to make shipping more efficient + once opened, was thinned with water for drinking or cooking.

the milk served with vietnamese coffee a.k.a. sweetened condensed milk was undiluted; thick, sweet + rich (similar to the way some of us still prepare our hot drinks with milk).

the metal container sitting on top of the espresso sized cup has two parts, the bottom half is filled with darkly roasted finely ground coffee. although two to three tablespoons of ground coffee per cup is common, it does not seem that this much coffee is used because it is compressed between two filters. hot water is poured on top + it slowly seeps through the coffee + drips onto the milk; this takes awhile. and this is not a drink to gulp.

i managed to cover half a chapter while waiting for the coffee to drip through.

loosening the lid a little will let the water run through the coffee quicker but the flavour will be weaker. as the coffee drips, it hardly disturbs the milk. there is a thick layer of white, another black + a little froth at the top. remove the metal filter + stir the layers together. the result has the texture of a good espresso + a caramel sweetness with a flavour close to good coffee ice cream.

the marriage of sweet thick milk + intense bitter coffee is sublime. each, on its own, is too intense to be enjoyed. the milk is too cloying, the coffee too strong. there is a classic yin + yang vying for attention + needing just a stir of the spoon to create an extraordinary balance.

peralatan untuk minum kopi tradisi vietnam

1. french traditional one cup coffee filter
2. demitasse spoon
3. espresso cup with saucer (untuk parking demitasse spoon)

bahan-bahan eksesori minuman kopi yang diperlukan

1. sweetened condensed milk
2. white sugar (bagi mengelakkan kejadian renjatan berlaku)

apparently, the french roast style coffees are an excellent substitute for the traditional brewing method adopted by the vietnamese.

+ i don't want to sleep alone +

late saturday evening, cik pms + myself decided to gamble + just go for whatever movie available. we saw "i don't want to sleep alone", a malaysian movie, surprise, surprise ... at least for us, directed by tsai ming-liang, who was born in kuching + made his fame in taiwan.

a minimalist flick; there's barely any dialogue but with hints of social realism. the theme is about human relationship + the need for man to find love, warmth + someone they can depend on. the movie moves very slowly, lingering on each shot sometimes for one or two minutes, probably trying to get that hypnotic effect but it didn't work for me, i couldn't 'feel' (ke pasal ada this giggling machine seated next to me?). according to baki, it was initially banned in malaysia, but the producer fought to get the film in cinemas. he further divulged a not so secret, secret that one of the actors, norman atun, was selling goreng pisang when he was spotted by tsai to be the star on his project.

the director's style has a lot of similarity with another asian auteur i've recently got 'acquainted with', apichatpong weerasethakul (the director of 'mysterious object at noon' + 'blissfully yours' + 'tropical malady' + 'syndromes and a century' ... i know, i very the ketinggalan zaman). both are masters of visual poetry + mise-en-scene + both are quiet in style, tortured souls as cik pms calls them.

the storyline? it's showing in cineleisure, go check it out.

p.s. i suddenly have 'ain't no sunshine' playing in my head ... i love the cover by freddie king

8 comments: said...

dis post made me wanna.i need a holiday.*bleargh*

gravtkills said...

amatnya susah nak minum kopi kat vietnam...order kopi tarik je tak leh eh

wegra said...


holiday kat kl? we do what tourists do in kl, pastu blog about it?



itu traditional vietnamese coffee ... you dah experience it once, you go back to the normal modern cafe ... i recommend 'little hanoi'

agus said...

That coffee brewing metal contraption, ada jual kat sana tak? Usually I would use drip paper filter but sometimes the right tools get you in the atmosphere, and romance that is Hanoi.
Ah, I forgot my pack in your sac! When's the rescheduled threading session?

PiN(u/a)Ts said...

aku tak kisah, semua kopi aku suka.. hahaha..

wegra said...


tu laa pasal ... buat berat hembeg je bawak ... threading? ... shhhh!

they sell them one cup filter there but her royal highness tak terfikir nak beli


cepat laa balik mesia ... leh minum kopi together gether!

mummy-o said...

wahh...makes me wanna go and have coffee now!

i too need a holiday!!

Erra said...



sheyu thursday/friday/saturday