I'm always up for a unique coffee experience. Sometimes it's about the product and other times the place. In Hanoi, cafes do coffee with yoghurt or egg, some purveyors have an artisinal approach to what they do; sourcing, roasting, blending and grinding their own brews. I can sip coffee against a century old ochre wall, in a memorabilia-lined passageway a metre wide, up a spiral staircase overlooking a lake. Even a standard Hanoi cafe is perfectly good for watching the frenetic passing parade. It's an ongoing discovery that I never tire of.
In Saigon, I'm less familiar with the coffee culture. This makes investigating it even more intriguing.
Perhaps most intriguing is the city's café bệt (coffee sitting on the ground) custom, which does not exist in Hanoi as far as I know. For an outsider, it appears very much the terrain of the insider; difficult to access. On a flying visit to Saigon last week, I stumbled upon it adjacent to the city's iconic Notre-Dame Cathedral, at the top of its most exclusive street address, Đồng Khởi. Here on the pavements of Liberation Day Park, coffee is procured from what seems out of nowhere. There is no signage or menu board, no bricks and mortar structure, not even a hastily erected tarpaulin. Definitely no coffee making apparatus. Yet folks are sitting around the park grasping plastic cups of iced coffee.
And my hand is empty. I am already imagining the taste of the coffee. My patience is on the fray.
But I work it out. A system gradually reveals itself. Three people sit on fold-up chairs by the roadside, one equipped with a walkie-talkie, one a big wad of cash in his fat little hand and the other pulling single sheets of print from a newspaper. A fourth part of the equation arrives alongside them by motorbike, bearing two cups of coffee in the hand not steering the bike. The coffee is delivered across the park to patrons already sitting on newspaper on the raised concrete barriers separating the footpath from the grass.
Café Bệt in Công Viên 30/4 (Liberation Day Park) is ordered by walkie-talkie, delivered by motorbike from a coffee cart 100 metres up the road and consumed low to the ground on a sheet of daily news. In the shadow of a church.
As a "gutter crawling streetfood eater and drinker", it is the coffee of my terrain.