What better way to start off a day trip to Hanoi than an early morning walking tour of the Old Quarter. At 5.45am we meet up with our guide Tuy to explore the empty streets and narrow alleyways of this old and vibrant city. Everyone is just waking up and getting to business. Baskets of freshly made noodles are being dropped off in front of restaurants. Tiny plastic chairs are being set up along the sidewalk where the locals are sitting to eat their breakfast of Pho or rice pancakes filled with ground pork and mushrooms.
At the end of our tour Tuy brought us to Café Nang. This tiny café has spilled out to take over the whole sidewalk in front of it. All the small plastic blue and red chairs are filled with mostly men drinking their regular daily coffee. We go inside and make our way up a very narrow staircase. The first floor is just a tiny mezzanine where the magic happens. Café Nang is one of the oldest coffee shops in Hanoi. The owner now is an older lady who took over the café when her father in law died and has now been running it for more than 60 years. She still makes the coffee along with her daughter, here on the first floor. Above a small sink is a line of glasses toped with drip coffee filters. It doesn’t look like much, but this is what makes Café Nang so popular. Most of the people who come here are regulars and the staff know many of their drink preferences by heart.
We continued up another tiny flight of stairs to the third floor, where we found three tiny wooden stools and a small wooden table near the window. Tuy tells us that coffee here is a time to relax, share stories and take your time, “coffee should not be rushed, 30 minutes is a good time to have coffee”. I could have spent all day here. Here on the second floor the faded and cracked yellow walls are mostly bare except for a family picture where everyone looks so serious. Our dark brown table looks like it has had many coffees cups sitting on it over the years and has a lot of character and probably a lot of stories to tell too. From the window you can see so many things. A woman balances two baskets full of fruits on her shoulder. Another is selling noodles on the sidewalk. There are motorcycles everywhere, on the street driving in all directions, parked on every inch of sidewalk. A huge mess of electrical wires hang across the street. How you could ever figure out which one was yours I cannot fathom. All of the little apartments are just as narrow as Café Nang is, apparently because in the past owners were taxed based on the width of their buildings. Many of the apartments that I can see from here have tiny balconies filled with all sorts of flowers and plants.
A few moments later my hot chocolate arrives in a think glass with a silver spoon inside. Most of the cocoa powder seems to still be sitting on the top of the glass so I stir it through vigorously. My first sip I am completely confused. It tastes like coffee! Did I get a moca instead? Rich tastes it, not its not coffee. The air here is so filled with coffee that I was smelling it even in my hot chocolate. A few more sips later I couldn’t smell or taste the coffee anymore (there wasn’t any in my drink) and was just completely engrossed in my hot chocolate.
I loved this hot chocolate, I loved everything about it. I loved Café Nang, watching the locals enjoying their coffees. I loved the beautiful little brown chairs and tables. I loved the view from the second floor. The hot chocolate was creamy, chocolaty and bitter but with just a hint of sweetness. I often say how every country does hot chocolate a slightly different way and this is the Vietnamese hot chocolate. It is made of a very dark cocoa powder and hot milk to which you can add whatever sugar you want to make it sweeter. It is gorgeous and delicious and I would happily spend 30 minutes a day here with one of these.
Verdict: What more can I say, this is a must if you are in Hanoi and a reason to visit Hanoi if you were looking for one! Whether you sit upstairs, inside or along the sidewalk, have the hot chocolate, you won’t regret it. Café Nang, 6 Hang Bac St, Hanoi, Vietnam