Hot Chocolate at Moca Cafe, Hanoi, Vietnam

My guidebook, and several locals all told us to try Moca Café when I asked them for a good place for a hot chocolate. It is in a colonial era building very close to the St Joseph’s Cathedral and the Ba Da Pagoda.

When we got there, the place was empty. We grabbed a seat near the window and sat down. After a few minutes we looked around, and there were several staff at the counter, all watching us like we are the show. Finally we got up and ask for a menu and brought it back to the table.  After a few more minutes we decide that we must need to go up to the counter to order so we did and 30 second later our drinks were delivered.

The whole time we were drinking the staff kept staring at us. It was the strangest thing. Were we doing something wrong? In the background they were playing English love songs from the 80’s. There are some beautiful elements to this café.  Small white tables with dark wooden chairs and the old lamp shades give is a romantic feel. There is a large coffee roaster near the door and a range of coffee beans in wooden boxes along the back wall. Apparently this is the place for coffee and the Vietnamese love their coffee.

Moca Café doesn’t love their hot chocolate as much. Mine was a mug of hot milk with a squirt of sweet chocolate syrup. But I can imagine when this place is full, with the atmosphere on any other day I would have enjoyed it enough.

Verdict: If it wasn’t for the staff starring at us I would come back here, maybe not for the hot chocolate but I’d find something else. The view out of the window of the busy street is beautiful and the café has a slight nostalgic and romantic feel to it. In the afternoons and evenings it gets very busy with local youth and has a much more vibrant atmosphere.  Moca Café, 14-16 Nha Tho Street, Hanoi Vietnam

Hot Chocolate at Helio, Hanoi, Vietnam

Every day, several times a day, tourists and locals alike line up to watch the Water Puppet show at Thank Long Theatre. Puppetry is a traditional art form used in all corners of the country. The show happens in a small theatre filled with bright red chairs. For 45 minutes you are transported on a journey through the country side of Vietnam. Musicians play a range of traditional music and instruments and accompany a range of gorgeous little wooden puppets that seem to magically emerge from the water and dance around. I loved every second of it and would go again.

In the same building as the puppet theatre is Helio, a café filled with dark wooden chairs and tables and that brings in several elements from the water puppet show above. One wall is covered with actual wooden water puppets painted in vibrant reds, golds and greens. Another wall has several prints of water puppet scenes. The wall in front of us has a large stunning medal art piece on the wall showing a range of country scenes.

My hot chocolate is beautifully presented. It comes in a glass (with a tiny handle). The chocolate is all at the bottom of the glass and topped with hot milk. I give it a stir and take my first sip. Unfortunately it was just too sweet for my liking. The chocolate at the bottom was sweet chocolaty syrup.

While sitting here we can hear the musicians practicing upstairs. It really gives this place a great atmosphere.

Verdict: The Water Puppet show is a must and this place is a good spot to grab a drink before you check out the show. If you like sweet chocolate milk this one is beautifully presented. Helio, 57B Dinh Tien Hoang Stre., Hanoi, Vietnam

Hot Chocolate at City View Cafe, Hanoi, Vietnam

Early in the morning Hanoi seems empty but if you think that everyone is still sleeping, think again. They are all doing their exercise around Hoan Kiem Lake. There are groups doing tai chi, others doing dances with fans. A rather large group is dancing Merengue. There is even several lines of people giving each other standing up massages. The rest are walking around the lake, doing 3 km laps while watching the sunrise over the water.

Hoan Kiem means Lake of the Restored Sword. According to the legend the emperor handed a magic sword which brought him victory in his revolt against the Chinese Ming Dynasty back to the Golden Turtle God in the lace. Apparently in these waters there is a giant turtle who is considered somewhat of a deity by the locals. Depending on who you ask the turtle is somewhere between the size of medicine ball to the size of a small car. His name is actually Cu Rua and he weights a healthy 200kg, is believed to be 600 years old and has a range of magical powers. He is also very special as he is one of only four Rafetus Swinhoei turtles in the world.  He has been through a lot. The lake has has quite high levels of pollution over the years and his health has suffered at time but he still lives on.

It is extremely good luck to see the turtle but despite intensely watching the waters for several hours this morning we didn’t see any evidence of this noble creature. We decided to move to higher groups to see if we had more luck and took the elevator up five floors to the City View Café. Here we sat on the covered terrace and looked for Cu Rua.

From up here you get a great feel for Hanoi. Below is a large intersection with motorcycles zipping by in all directions. Sometimes it is hard to figure out which way the traffic is actually supposed to be going. You can see the last few locals exercising around the lake.  The tourists have woken up and have started to visit the lake. Many tourists and locals alike take the little red Huc Bridge across to a small island in the lake that houses the Temple of the Jade Mountain erected in the 18th century.

I of course order the hot chocolate to keep me company while watching all of this. It comes in a tall glass with a couple of straws and a long silver spoon. It was very difficult to drink and was very sweet, so if you are a sweet tooth you will like this hot chocolate more than I did. This is one of those spots though that you come to regardless of the quality of the drinks because the view is fantastic.

Verdict: Fantastic view and a great spot for an early morning drink after a quick walk around the lake with the locals. In the afternoon they open the rooftop terrace on the 6th floor where I’m guessing you can get an even better view of the lake and the old Quarter on the other side. City View Café, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hot Chocolate at Baguette & Chocolate, Hanoi, Vietnam

Vietnam is a fascinating country, so much richer and deeper than I ever realised. There are 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam all with their own cultures and customs. The main group, the Viet, account for approximately 87% of the population. The remaining 13%, some 8.5 million people, spread out across the country have incredibly interesting and rich cultures that are celebrated at the very interesting Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi.

Museumas are a tricky thing when travelling. Everyone always tells you to go to Museums but most of time they are dark and dull spaces. This place is a highlight of Hanoi. The building is filled with information, pictures and displays introducing you to the different ethnic groups and their customs; everything from marriage, to how they raise their children, how they celebrate life and what happens when they die. Once you have explored the inside there is an even larger outdoor space where they have build copies of the traditional houses of many of these ethnic groups which you can enter and take a look around. It is a fantastic spot and one you could easily spend a few hours to a whole day in.

In the garden just between the main museum building and the open air gallery is Baguette & Chocolate. I read about this place before I cam to Hanoi and wanted to visit it. It is an initiative run by the Hoa Sua School for Disadvantaged Youth. Founded in 1994, this initiative recruits about 700 youth from around the country annually and trains them in 11 different programmes around either Hospitality and tourism or Embroidery and tailoring. Students in food and hospitality programmes are trained at a range of venues including several cafes and restaurants across the city. Baguette & Chocolate is one of them.

We take a seat inside on the terrace. It is hot outside but luckily there are several ceiling fans pointed directly at us. The service is incredible. A young lady comes up and asks us very politely what we would like and once we have told her she repeats our order to confirm. We order lunch, a few cold drinks and, of course, a hot chocolate. I figure a place that has the world chocolate in the title must be doing something right with its chocolate related products.

The hot chocolate is presented at the end of our meal. It is a bit watery but has a nice flavour and looks beautiful.

Verdict: A trip to Hanoi should include a few hours visiting the Museum of Ethnology and this spot in the garden makes a perfect rest stop to absorb all the interesting information. The service is great, the food is quite good and I enjoyed the hot chocolate. Plus you are supporting a very worthwhile project. Baguette & Chocolate, Museum of Ethnology, Nguyn Van Huyen st., Hanoi, Vietnam.

Hot Chocolate at Cafe Nhan, Hanoi, Vietnam

Today we met up with my friend An. An is from Hanoi but I met her in the US when we were both doing a course together there. That was in 2004 and I haven’t seen her since so it was so nice to see her again and to get a little introduction to Hanoi from a local perspective.

We spent a few hours visiting the Temple of Literature, the first national university in Vietnam. It was build in 1070 and is dedicated to Confucius. An tells us that this is a popular spot today for students studying for exams. She used to come here to ask for strength and wisdom to be able to do well in her studies. In one area of the temple there are 82 carved turtles carrying larges plaques. Each plaque has the names and birthplaces of the graduates engraved into them.

After visiting a range of spots around the area including the Craftlink stores that sell handmade traditional goods from the region, we made our way to Cafe Nhan. Cafe Nhan is one of the oldest, continually running cafe’s in Hanoi. It is quite a large cafe spread over three floors. On the first floor there is an interesting looking room with a giant fish tank , low tables and lots of pillows. Several small groups of teenagers have taken over this space so we continue up to the third floor.

It seems like they have done some decorating since the cafe first opened. Rather than the tiny wooden stools and tables I’m used to sitting on across Hanoi, this place has new tables covered in glass. In our section the tables have a green, yellow and brown checkered tablecloth that doesn’t feel very local but brings a burst of colour to the place. On the wall are some reproductions of famous paintings. The space is filled with locals sitting on large comfy red and green chairs, most talking on their cell phones while enjoying noodles and coffee.

Like many of the hot chocolates I have had in Hanoi my hot chocolate smells like coffee when it is first presented to me. It doesn’t help that both An and Rich have ordered coffee, as has everyone else int eh cafe, so the smell is in the air. But like the other hot chocolates I have had in Hanoi before, the smell quickly passes and I enjoy this one quite a bit. It isn’t as rich and creamy as others I have had here but the company and being able to catch up with An turned it into a really great hot chocolate.

Verdict: Cafe Nhang isn’t as traditional as some other coffee houses in the city, it has a bit of a strange decor but the drinks are good and it s a nice break from the busy streets in the old quarter. Cafe Nhan, 39D Ngo Hang Hanh Nha Tho Area, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hot Chocolate at the Sofitel, Hanoi, Vietnam

The Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi has a Chocolate Buffet. Yes, you heard me correctly; an all you can eat buffet celebrating chocolate. I found this out while doing my research on Hanoi and so we made a point to visit the Sofitel near the French Quarter one day at 3pm, right when it started.

The Sofitel is quite a stunning hotel. It is a gorgeous colonial style building. The hotel also has a very rich history and several information panels along the walls introduce you to some of the highlights of that history. Guests at the hotel also have access to a free tour guided by the hotel’s Ambassador of History.

The Chocolate Buffet takes place in the Club Bar, a beautiful gazebo with green white and light purple chairs. The staff give us a very nice table right next to the window which feels very private but still gives us a good view of the whole area. It has just started to rain outside and we can hear the rain drops softly falling on the glass roof above us. In the background romantic 1920’s jazz serenades us as the staff set our table with two crisp white cotton placemats and a glass of water. Inside the décor is all 1920’s inspired. It takes you to another world altogether. The other tables are filled with business men and women taking a break or meeting with clients. There is a group of Australian women expats all dressed up in fancy dresses drinking champagne. A few guests come in from the pool to enjoy the buffet and refresh with a fruity drink. Hanoi seems very far away, at least the Hanoi of today.

Which brings me to the chocolate buffet.  Believe it or not I am not a huge fan of chocolate. I find it too sweet (hot chocolate, of course is another thing altogether). But because of the French influence I was expecting that this chocolate buffet would be filled with beautifully delicate chocolate creations that would have the right balance of sweetness and of course look divine. It was exactly that. One large wall near the bar is covered in multiple layers of chocolate platters, each with a different delicacy. There are chocolate millefeuille, chocolate mousse, tiny chocolate éclairs, chocolate covered orange rinds, and a chocolate crème brulee in a large spoon. A whole area has lots of little chocolates filled with everything from bailey’s, coffee to different fruits. There are chocolate covered nuts, chocolate brownie with a raspberry on top, and chocolate cakes. There is an area where they can make you little chocolate filled crepes fried in orange juice and Grand Marnier which were incredible. And everything is in miniature, bite size serving. If you have had (and we never did) enough of the chocolate you also have access to a range of sandwiches, juices and fruits that have no chocolate in them to balance things out.

I was hoping they would have a hot chocolate as part of the buffet, and fortunately they did. They didn’t just have one hot chocolate, they had six different hot chocolates. There were 6 little glass containers with chunks of different types of chocolate, white chocolate, 70% dark chocolate, milk chocolate. I chose the Belgium Dark Chocolate. The chef takes a few chunks of the chocolate and puts them into a pot on a little stove right there in front of me. As the chocolate is melting she adds a little milk and stirs it all up. When it is ready, she takes a little cup, puts about a tablespoon of cream at the bottom and then fills the rest with the melted chocolate and milk mixture. She then places a little piece of the dark chocolate on the side.

I have been drinking hot chocolate for many years and I can safely say that up until this point, this is one of the best hot chocolate I have ever tasted. It was so simple yet so delicious. It was thick but not too thick, sweet but not too sweet, chocolatey but not too chocolately, creamy but not too creamy. It just coats your insides as you drink it and seems to hug you from the inside out. I truly felt like I had been transported to another, very happy place. And it wasn’t the sugar high saying all this. I had a hot chocolate before I even started eating the buffet. The waitress kept asking me if I wanted tea and coffee because it is included in the buffet price. Who cares about tea and coffee! I have my hot chocolate.

The test of an incredible hot chocolate? I went back for a second one at the end of the day and enjoyed the second one just as much as the first one.  Is this the ultimate hot chocolate?  I’m not sure if after only writing this blog for 7 or so months I can already say I have found the ultimate hot chocolate. There have been a few over the past months that have come close.  But this one was just so good, that it’s tempting to give it the title.

Verdict: The chocolate buffet costs 25 dollars a person which seems steep at first but I can’t imagine anyone regrets it. We stayed there from when they set up at 3pm to when they stopped at 5.30 and loved every minute of it. Sofitel, Club Bar, 15 Ngo Quyen Street, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hot Chocolate at Cafe Nang, Hanoi, Vietnam

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