Sunday, April 06, 2014

Egg Coffee

Egg Coffee
Diep asked me, "Have you ever had an Egg Coffee?"

"Sure," I said. "In Scandanavia they use egg whites and egg shells to filter the coffee." 

"No - I mean Egg Coffee, in Hanoi. The kind with egg yolks."

I was sorry to say we'd missed this experience.

Diep told me the story behind the drink as she assembled the ingredients to make a cup. This is one of the beverages she's including in her cookbook.

Decades ago, after the bar man at the Metropole retired, he opened the Giang Cafe, just a block away from the venerable old hotel. As a signature drink, he developed a concoction he called Egg Coffee as a rich and special treat. Styled after the cappucino, the drink features two unusual ingredients for a coffee drink: eggs and butter. In the cafe, in the old days, before the electrification of Hanoi, people would sit at the tables, hand whipping 2 egg yolks with melted butter and sweetened condensed milk using a bamboo mixer in a glass. The bamboo mixers were simply made from a chopstick with two pieces of wood lashed on to make the whipping blades. The whipped concoction is rather like a thin custard and tastes like creme brulee, but better.

Vietnamese drip coffee, prepared using the famous cafe filtre is essential to achieve the characteristically strong coffee flavor, the anchor flavor of the drink. Diep set up the special Vietnamese filters and we waited patiently for the dark, black liquid to emerge drop by drop into a glass. In most Vietamese homes, the drip espresso coffee for this drink will be prepared in a large quantity and kept in the refrigerator. As drinks are made during the day, an individual portion of coffee will be boiled, reducing the liquid to about one half or to the desired strength. Vietnamese coffee is exceptionally strong!
Boiling coffee down

As we chatted in the kitchen about the drink, Diep used her father's bamboo mixer (which she carries with her everywhere) on the milk and eggs. No electricity required; the stick is rolled rapidly between the hands, like boy scouts might do when starting a fire. Watching her work for five minutes I was sure we could come up with a short-cut to make the drink more appealing to American cooks. Many drinks later, after trying a hand-held stick mixer, a hand-held mixer, a milk frother, a balloon whisk - nothing compared with the texture of the product made with Dad's simple chopstick mixer. Alas, like much of Vietnamese food, there is no short cut to the particular taste and texture considered

Diep never said "I told you so" but she didn't have to.
Whipping with Dad's chopstick whipper

Between whipping experiments, Diep would taste a spoonful of sweetened condensed milk, closing her eyes as she savored the sweetness. The milk, she told me, was rationed for many years in Hanoi during the subsidy period. As Diep tasted and whipped the milk, she recalled that when a sweetened condensed milk can appeared in the LoTe household, (secured by cashing in ration coupons and standing in line for a long time) Diep and her brothers and sisters thought they were in heaven. Sweet experiences were almost unknown during those times. Because refrigeration in private homes was rare - a few well-connected families owned Russian refrigerators - in Diep's home, the can of milk, once opened, was placed in a bowl of cold water and put up on the highest shelf to keep the kids away. Even then, her brothers would find a way to scramble up and sneak a taste. One of Diep's favorite treats to this day, a special weekend breakfast, is a fresh baguette torn off in small pieces and dipped in the sweet milk, eaten slowly, bite by bite. 

The addition of melted butter, a somewhat "secret" ingredient adds a heavenly silkiness which
balances the bitterness of the coffee and ties the other components together. In the Ziang cafe, they also add something called "cheese powder". Another secret. Drink makers, bartenders, in my experience, often have some special twist on their beverages to make them unique.
In Diep's home, preparation of egg coffee is a revered ritual performed by her father on special occasions. The glasses must be spotlessly clean and free of the odors or tastes of any other food. A good rinsing of everything with hot water is the first step. The whipping process can take up to ten minutes to achieve the desired silky, smooth texture. Both in the Ziang cafe and in Diep's home, the whipping process is great fun, a time for chatting, joking and visiting while the anticipation builds for the treat to come.

When Diep moved to Canada and asked her father what he wanted her to send him, he asked for a can of sweetened condensed milk. He wanted to see if the Canadian version was the same as the milk in Vietnam. He also asked for sweet potatoes.....but that's another story.

Note: We used Longevity Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk Gold. Sua Ong Tho. Nutrition Facts in Vietnamese: Dinh Duong (Ding Dong). 

The real thing
The more I've thought about this process, the more convinced I am that Diep created an emulsion with her father's mixer, like a sort of mayonnaise. And that we were on the wrong track trying to whip or aerate the mixture. When we get back from Japan, I'll try using standard emulsion techinques to try to get the texture right.
Making egg coffees

Diep couldn't believe the avocados. She ate 5 a day and saved up a small pile to put on her hair and face. Here's one picture of her avocado spa day. She looked like a little avatar.
Avocado spa day

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