Christmas has come to Hanoi in a big way, and you’d be hard fucking pressed to avoid the plastic seasonal cheer seeping from the city’s pores like red and green blood.
Gaudy decorations are everywhere, tinny renditions of ‘Jingle Bells’ tumble from every shop’s speakers and the misspelling ‘Santa Clause’ pollutes social media newsfeeds.
However, Vietnam does know how to do one thing to properly commemorate the birth of Santa, and that’s drink.
In that spirit and armed with the knowledge that there’s a café for everything in Hanoi, I set out to find a uniquely Vietnamese way to pass out drunk in front of a fire and stumbled upon the country’s version of eggnog: egg beer.
Before you picture Rocky Balboa chugging a pitcher of raw eggs and booze remember, Vietnam has a knack for tasty eggy drinks. Egg coffee is hugely popular, especially in the capital, and it’s not because all of Vietnam is training to take on Apollo Creed, it’s because the drink is delicious.
Giang Café at 39 Nguyen Huu Huan Street in the Old Quarter is the birthplace of egg beer, according to owner Vu Khac Son. The café was founded in 1946 by Son’s grandfather Nguyen Van Giang, who Son credits with kick-starting the egg drink craze by inventing egg coffee.
Despite having moved around a few locations in the Old Quarter over the last seven decades, Giang Café has retained a traditional look, with tables, chairs and wooden sofas in the café ranging from 30 to 50 years old and all in the same style as in the 1940s, according to Son. Motioning around the bustling room he said: “It was the same 72 years ago.”
As with many Vietnamese businesses there’s a strong family ethos to Giang Café, with black and white pictures of Son’s forefathers adorning its walls. This family ethos extends to the menu, as Son explained various members of his clan invented drinks the café still serves, including his own egg rum, his wife’s egg matcha and of course, his father’s egg beer.
When I asked Son why his father invented egg beer, he had a simple and relatable explanation: “Because he liked beer.”
Unable to disagree with that sentiment I ordered one of the eggy concoctions and asked Son about the ingredients. In keeping with the café’s simple style, the drink is nothing more than egg yolk, sugar and cream in a glass, with a can of beer on the side to pour in.
The cream was an addition of Son’s, who decided to add it after sampling cream-based drinks in South Africa seven years ago while covering the World Cup in his day job as a football journalist. This was something of a masterstroke in my eyes, as who can argue that cream doesn’t make everything better?
After pouring some 333 beer into the glass and mixing it with the thick mixture, I was ready for the taste test. Having expected something horrifically eggy I was surprised to be sipping on a delightfully sweet and filling drink, a couple of which would be sure to put any seasoned seasonal drinker into a hazy sleep after their Christmas dinner.
Though the interior of the cafe doesn’t change, egg beer may have a new taste soon, as Son explained to me 333 may be coming off the menu. The company that brews it (Sabeco) has just been taken over by a largely Thai-owned firm, so Son may switch to Hanoi beer, as he “only supports local beer”.
Though he may be thinking local in terms of beer, Son is acting global, with plans to open a Giang Café in Yokohoma, Japan in February next year.
While eggnog may only be a Christmas treat (or horror, depending on your taste) in the west, Giang Café sells the Vietnamese year-round and at only VND 50,000 a glass.
The drink is so cheap because of its simplicity, all it takes to make the custard-like broth is one egg yolk, cream and sugar all mixed together. Add beer and stir and you’ve got yourself a uniquely Vietnamese sweet and creamy beer float.
So if you’re pining for eggnog to whisk you back to a proper Christmas back home, you could do worse than popping down to Giang Café on the 25th for some eggy delights.