I don't like to throw out stuff in general; foodstuff in particular. So when I found a few grains of Vietnamese coffee languishing in the back of my kitchen cabinet this weekend I couldn't quite bring myself to chuck it into the bin.
I had to in the end (as I needed the container for a fragrant new pack of French roast) but it got me thinking about my first glass of Vietnamese coffee.
It was a memorable occasion. Well, mainly due to the fact that dumping a large quantity of condensed milk into my glass seemed to be considered a good thing, but also because the café I first tasted Vietnamese coffee in was probably the strangest café I've ever visited.
Calling it a café is stretching the truth really. I think it was a converted garage, shoved on the side of a little street in Siem Reap. I landed there at the behest of my tuk-tuk driver and guide Han, who was aghast that I and the friend I was travelling with were falling asleep while driving past some of Cambodia's most stunning countryside.
Han felt we needed a jolt of caffeine and sugar to set us right. We did, and I'll be eternally grateful to him for introducing me to ca phe sua da - the super quenching Vietnamese iced milk coffee.
Ca phe sua da is a brilliant invention to answer the need for refreshment in the
tropics. It offers a strong, smooth hit of caffeine on account of its dark roast and drip-filter brewing method which retains all of the coffee's essential oils. And it uses the best all-in-one creamer + sweetener ever created - condensed milk (which also keeps better than fresh milk in hot weather). The sweet, velvety coffee is poured over crushed ice in a tall glass and voilà - the best wake-up call you could have on a languid tropical afternoon.
The coffee itself was delicious but what made the moment really memorable was the setting. As I said, I'm pretty sure it was a garage. It was filled with rows of chairs draped with people - all of whom seemed transfixed by the goings-on flickering on five TV screens at the front - each screen playing something different, none playing any sound. No one seemed perturbed by that little detail though, and they all seemed to be following the particular movie they had chosen to watch without any difficulty at all. It was all a bit strange...
I've had Vietnamese coffee since - in Vietnam, at home, frankly anywhere I get the chance. It's one of my favourite kinds of coffee but none of the places I have drunk it in since have stuck in memory as much as that first glass. It might have been a strange introduction, but it was definitely one that made an impression.
Named Best Blog for Food & Travel
Top 10 UAE Food Blogs in UAE