A Hanoi coffee institution since 1936
43 Pho Yen Phu, Tay Ho District, Hanoi
T: (04) 3829 1386
When I wrote about coffee in Hanoi I mentioned cafe sua chua and promised more… I was introduced to cafe sua chua at Cafe Duy Tri, an historic coffee shop located on Pho Yen Phu. Pho Yen Phu is a lively street running north off Duong Thanh Nien (the street that runs between Truc Bach and West Lake and is home to Tran Quoc Pagoda). Note that the big dyke road, which runs to the east of Old Quarter, is also called (Duong) Yen Phu for a stretch, but it’s “little Yen Phu” you’re after.
Cafe Duy Tri has been around since 1936, and that’s a long time for a building to be standing in Hanoi, let alone a coffee shop to keep going, yet initially I had some trouble finding the place — and that’s probably because it’s tiny. But this is part of its charm: Cafe Duy is legendary and retains all the charm of yesterday, including its five-foot wide frontage.
Once inside, be prepared to duck low and don’t take in any wide objects as you may accidentally behead someone sitting on one of the tiny stools. There’s seating downstairs but walk to the back and head up the narrow wooden staircase to the upper levels. If it’s a warm day and you’re lucky, grab the one table that’s out on the balcony on the second floor — Pho Yen Phu is a busy street so there’s always something to watch — otherwise find yourself a spot under a fan inside.
Decor is random yet appropriate. An eclectic mix of pictures and framed photos line the walls, vases of dried flowers and other paraphernalia are placed here and there, and seating is a mix of padded beer crates, tiny wooden stools and 1970s-style chairs. Ambiance is variable, depending upon the time of day and therefore how busy it is, but it always retains a cosy, “I could sit here all day playing cards or working on my computer” feel to it. (Yes, there is free WiFi.)
So to the drinks. Although coffee reigns supreme — you’ll walk past jars of beans and grinding machines on your way in — the menu features other delights: frozen yoghurt is a delicious specialty and highly recommended, but there’s also a range of smoothies, juices, teas, milk drinks and, of course, bia Hanoi (note that it attracts quite a few tourists and expats so the menu’s in English as well as Vietnamese).
Bring together the coffee and the frozen yoghurt and you get to cafe sua chua: a glass containing plain frozen yoghurt, topped with hot coffee. Now, I’m not a coffee drinker but this is good: more of a dessert or sweet snack than a morning coffee experience, it still has enough of a caffeine kick to get you going and is unlike anything I’ve ever tried before.
Prices are very reasonable. Coffee starts at 15,000 VND for black coffee (hot or iced), frozen yoghurt is 20,000 VND or 25,000 VND with fermented rice and fruit juices and shakes are 22,000 to 30,000 VND. Servings aren’t big, but at those prices you could eat — or drink — two. And I happily would.
This place is not ideal for large groups — although the room at the back upstairs could accommodate a crowd — but is perfect for twosomes or a comfortable place to go alone. While a bit of a trek from Old Quarter, it’s easy to get to if you’re visiting West Lake or Tran Quoc Pagoda, or staying at the Intercontinental or Sheraton, and only five minutes or so from Huong Sen Massage — so you can treat yourself after being pummelled. But if you have time to spare and just want to chill out somewhere with a book or updating your travel-blog, it’s worth making a special trip.
Pho Yen Phu is also a good place to get some street food, drink bia hoi and absorb local life, so go on, make a day of it.
By Sarah Turner
Last updated on 21st August, 2014.