Amongst the coloured clutter of children's play things in the old quarter street known as Toy Street, there is a coffee den. Awkwardly positioned, slightly camouflaged and really tiny, a seat in this establishment comes at a premium. In fact, it's best to carefully plan one's assault on it.
Persistent by nature, I've been known to circle this cafe like a shark, waiting for someone to vacate their stool and extract their motorbike to create space for me and mine. As the place is located in a one way street, this circling involves doing curcuits of the block burning litres of fuel. It's really best to park elsewhere and walk but even then there is no guarantee of a place to park one's body. The sure-fire strategy is to hit the place between 11am and 1pm, when the locals are feeding their rice holes and then sleeping it off. I must say though that I have noticed an increasing number of Vietnamese foregoing their afternoon siesta in favour of the caffeine alternative.
The coffee here is a sweet, rich but subtle blend served in classy glassware, delicately ridged and a good fit in my hand. Even though the girls who make the coffee are mere teens, they have been very well-trained to produce consistent coffee every time, which is one of my imperatives in a cafe. In all of my regular haunts, I know the cup I'm going to get. When I'm nursing it, tinkling with the ice and anticipating the liquid on my palate, I know what it's going to taste like. It's a comforting thought. In fact, venturing to new cafes can be traumatic, risky business.
As I sip my coffee, the traffic whizzes by, a passing parade of sweating and lost tourists, too. Across the street, toy negotiations are undertaken and cheap Chinese-manufactured playthings are clutched tightly by kids on the back of motorbikes, ready to be assembled, broken, discarded and their small parts swallowed all over Hanoi.
37 Luong Van Can