Developing my simple Vietnamese and iced coffee recipes

My last post was about Vietnamese iced coffee and searching for that ideal restaurant-style recipe. I bought a phin, which is a metal drip brewer, and I found some Trung Nguyen coffee in Chinatown.

My first stop was the recipe on the coffee can, which suggested a 3:25:1 water to coffee ratio. I think in the end, I ended up with roughly 4:1 or 6:1. It took roughly 10-15 minutes to drain. Then you mix in a big spoonful of sweetened condensed milk before pouring it over ice in a pint glass. Upon trying it, it’s straight gasoline. It’s not bad, it’s just way too strong, even at lower strength and over ice. It could half done with maybe half a glass of milk to further dilute the flavor.

Getting it right

My second recipe was roughly 30g of Ethiopian coffee, ground medium. I had some sitting around and decided to see if the long drain time was from the coffee brand or my approach. Since the phin holds roughly 240g of water, that’s an 8:1 ratio. After 10 minutes it made a strong but less abrasive coffee that I then poured over ice and added half and half. Given the amount of coffee and the brew time, I expected more flavor, but it was a light roast, so it’s not surprising.

My third try was 24g of Trung Nguyen coffee. Other sites have suggested a 10:1 ratio. Hario, the Japanese brand, suggests 11:1 in its Japanese iced recipe, so there’s a precedent there. It made a strong coffee, ready for sweetened condensed milk and ice.

Recipes

From this experience, I’ve developed two recipes, a modified Vietnamese coffee recipe and a standard iced coffee recipe for use with any coffee.

The Vietnamese recipe is spot-on and mostly measurement-free and the iced coffee recipe is great for a lazy day that you don’t want to do precise pour-over or use a paper filter.

Modified Vietnamese coffee recipe

  1. Wet inside of phin
  2. Add 24-30g Trung Nguyen coffee, roughly 4 even tablespoons, and place top filter
  3. Add a splash of boiling water roughly equal to the amount of coffee
  4. Wait 30 seconds then fill water to top of phin, place cover on phin
  5. Once handle on top filter is not submerged, lift it to encourage quicker draining (if you’d like)
  6. Once dripping is complete, add one big spoonful of sweetened condensed milk and stir to dissolve
  7. Pour coffee and condensed milk into a pint glass full of ice and stir to chill coffee.

Iced coffee recipe

  • Follow steps 1-5 above, using 30g of freshly ground coffee of any type.
  • If grind is correct, coffee should drain in under 10 minutes. If it doesn’t, adjust grind slightly coarser, aiming for 6-8 minutes.
  • Once dripping is complete, pour coffee over ice in a pint glass (16 oz) and add half and half or milk, stirring to chill coffee quickly.

How to make real Vietnamese coffee

To top off a refreshing plate of Vietnamese food on a hot day, we often go for a Vietnamese iced coffee. It’s the perfect sweet and cool complement for a bowl of pho, vermicelli, or a banh mi sandwich. With the temperatures hitting the 80s and 90s this week in New York City, I’ve been wondering how to replicate that particular deep, sweet, and viscous restaurant taste at home during the work week.

It’s not exactly a secret, but it requires a few inexpensive items. The three things you’ll need are:

  • A phin, which is a metal Vietnamese coffee dripper
  • The right coffee
  • Sweetened condensed milk

Here’s a short explanation of each item:

Phin (Vietnamese filter brewer)
This classic Vietnamese filter dripper includes a lid, a cup, and a kind of perforated metal tamper. I bought a Long Cam brand phin, which is made in Vietnam, at KK Discount in Chinatown (78 Mulberry Street, 9am-6pm).

The smallest, single-serving size is around 4 oz at $5, while the 9Q, which was the only larger option in stock, brews ~10 oz and was $11.

When you’re making Vietnamese coffee, go for “Made in Vietnam”

Coffee
This whole Vietnamese coffee thing started off for me when I purchased some Nguyen Coffee at Essex Market on the Lower East Side. They have great graphic design, a cool website, and are roasted in Brooklyn. Finding their product inspired me to try making my own coffee. The problem is their True Grit peaberry robusta that I bought is rough. It’s strong, vegetal-smelling, and hard on the stomach, plus it doesn’t taste like the right blend for a true Vietnamese coffee. If I had to pick again, I’d go with their Loyalty robusta/arabica blend, which promises to be smoother and more balanced.

Next I tried Trung Nguyen Premium Blend, which was recommended by many as the prototypical Vietnamese coffee. It comes pre-ground for the phin and even prints its recipe on the label. I assume that some of its distinctiveness comes from the addition of chocolate flavors to its roast. I bought it at Tan Ting Hung Supermarket (121 Bowery, 9am-6pm), $8.75 for 15 oz. They were incredibly helpful, letting me sneak in right at closing time and helping me find everything I needed.

Trung Nguyen Premium Blend

In its distinctive orange cans, Cafe Du Monde from New Orleans is also popular, though interestingly it is an American Southern-style roast with chicory and not a Vietnamese brand. It owes its popularity in this recipe to the Vietnamese community that settled in New Orleans following the Vietnam War. I’ll have to do a taste test between the two soon since these are the two most popular brands for Vietnamese coffee here in the US.

Recipe
Here is the recipe for preparing Vietnamese filter coffee, courtesy of the Trung Nguyen brand:

  1. Put 3 tbsp of coffee (about 20g) into the filter. Gently shake and lock the coffee press.
  2. Pour 20 ml boiling water (205-212 F / 90-100 C) into the filter. Wait until the coffee has fully absorbed water. Add 45 ml of boiling water into the filter.
  3. Place the cap. Wait 5-7 minutes for the coffee to drip through the grinds. Note that the coffee must drip slowly to capture the pure coffee essence. Add sugar or condensed milk to taste.
Credit for the recipe goes to this coffee can

Tip: It’s been recommended elsewhere to wet the inside bottom of the phin before adding the coffee so that the first grounds don’t fall through the perforations.

Final Thoughts
For the coffee nerds like me, the Trung Nguyen recipe above is a 1:1 bloom, total water to coffee ratio of 3.25:1, which is crazy, particularly when considering that a strong cup of specialty pour-over is a 16:1 ratio. I have seen other recipes recommend up to a 10:1 ratio for the same cup and elsewhere I’ve seen a bloom of up to 5 minutes recommended to really draw out the flavor of the cup.

I assume that the high dose of coffee is useful to compensate for putting the coffee on ice, as well as getting that true, ultra-condensed flavor. Looking forward to experimenting more to get closest to that true taste.

The Whole Enchilada, for Breakfast

Until an embarrassingly advanced age, I could not have told you what an enchilada was exactly. Thanks to the wildly popular local hippie-Tex Mex take-out place down the street from my childhood home, I knew it as a shifty pile of meat and various Mexican ingredients, possibly including rice and vegetables, all covered in gooey melted cheese, emphasis on the cheese. It came in a rounded metal tin and despite appearing to be leftovers covered in cheese, or perhaps because of it, was very tasty.

As a young college student exploring the South Philadelphia neighborhood known as the Italian Market, now heavily populated by Mexican establishments, I happened upon the culinary discovery my adolescent self might have called “soft taco tubes in salsa”, also known as authentic Mexican enchiladas.

Enchiladas, made the right way, are soft corn tortillas wrapped around a key ingredient, often braised chicken, pork or beef, and topped with homemade tomatillo or tomato salsa. If made with flour tortillas, tomato salsa, and gooey cheese, they’re called enchiladas suizas, Swiss enchiladas. When made with the smoky, chocolate and chili mole sauce, they’re known as enmoladas, my personal favorite.

All enchiladas are then topped off with Mexican cream and a dusting of crumbled cotija cheese. In a pinch, American sour cream and parmesan or feta can be substituted.

If you imagine the enchilada as an ice cream sundae, the crumbled cheese is the cherry on top. It’s a light dusting, a garnish. On the other hand, if the Tex-Mex enchilada were a sundae, it would be half cherries.

All this talk of dessert is distracting from eureka moment I had during my first visit to that place that people from New Mexico must call “Old Mexico”, the enchilada’s native home:

In Mexico City I learned that while tacos are the de facto late-night delivery device for meat, cilantro, and onions, the enchilada is a 24-hour phenomenon! That’s right, enchiladas are a full-on breakfast food. They can be stuffed not only with meat, but also with beans, cheese, or even scrambled eggs!

Eggs in an enchilada. This is not the Taco Bell breakfast menu. It’s not a breakfast burrito, another American invention. This is a legitimate round-the-clock Mexican dish, a plate you can order three times in the same day and not feel out of place.

Thank you for breakfast, England

Loaded with fried and fatty deliciousness, the Full English Breakfast is most definitely the father of the American diner breakfast.


Both are widely available, often around the clock, and full of staples more filling than nutritious. In fact, the British seem to have a complex about their love of a good fry-up that equals the stereotype of Americans as McDonald’s-loving slobs. Fatty food is universally loved and shamed.

The McDonald’s stereotype comes from the same place as the Coca-Cola stereotype: both are well-loved American brands that have had great success overseas. Europeans love McDonald’s and then feel as bad about it as we do.

History shows us with the fry-up that the classic artery-buster lives on in unbranded form with no need for the Golden Arches’ marketing savvy. Fat is its own marketing.

Compare the core ingredients:

Full English

  • Two fried eggs
  • Back bacon
  • Rashers (sausages)
  • Deep-fried Hash browns
  • Toast
  • Grilled tomato
  • Stewed mushrooms
  • Coffee

American

  • Two fried eggs
  • Bacon, sausage or ham
  • Pancakes with syrup or
  • Hash browns and Toast
  • Coffee
  • Orange juice
  • Fresh fruit if you’re lucky

Note the similarities: eggs, fatty meat, fried potatoes, coffee. We can thank Peru for the spuds and Ethiopia for the beans, I guess. Four centuries are enough to make them both a staple of half the countries on the globe.

Interestingly, instead of fresh fruit, the English variety has tomatoes. Hey, tomato is a fruit, right?

Perhaps the idea of the bottomless “super-size” started with US diner coffee, strong European roast being substituted for the watery American free-refill variety.

The stateside version is not all lacking in quality, however. The American breakfast plate incorporates syrup, real maple ideally, from Vermont, New York, or Quebec, and orange juice, fresh-squeezed California or Florida if you’re lucky.

Drawing its inspiration from around the globe, this classic American meal is uniting in its ubiquity, not only a working man’s meal like its progenitors in the Old World, and it is here to stay, at least for add long as we’re around to eat it.

Bucket List: Jazz Train from New York to Montreal

Featured image by Bublegun (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

New York, en wagon piano bar!

Imagine some of the nicest scenery in the East flashing by the window as you’re serenaded by live music and wined and dined. I first heard about this unique year-round service from a post on And North.The Jazz Train piggybacks on Amtrak’s Adirondack from New York-Montreal, an 11-hour trip from Penn Station through the Hudson Valley and the Adirondacks, ending in the capital of Quebec. Unlike Amtrak’s Western routes, this voyage is daytime-only and much slower than the drive, so it’s best for those with the time to enjoy. As far as I’m concerned, it’s well worth the time for this classy, photogenic, and stress-free travel.

If only they could fulfill their stated intention to run a similar service as an overnight (sleeper car) excursion, I imagine it would be wildly popular.

Service

As expected by the name, the train voyage includes a three-part jazz performance. Given the all-day length of the trip, it includes breakfast/brunch, lunch, and dinner, as well as drinks, both coffee in the morning and cocktails during the day. The menu is mouth-watering — starting the day with quiche du jour and French croissants is traveling in style.

The food includes, among other delicacies, two staples that Montreal and New York have in common: bagels (with maple smoked salmon), and smoked meat, a Montreal specialty similar to New York’s pastrami. Desserts are plentiful and heavy on the maple syrup ingredients.

For more on the itinerary and menu, visit the Jazz Train site here.

Route

The Jazz Train travels on Amtrak’s Adirondack route, which begins at New York Penn Station, passes along the Hudson, through Albany and Lake George, and alongside New York’s Adirondack State Park, alongside Lake Champlain.

Schedule / Cost / How to Book

Generally, the train departs departs New York on Thursdays and Sundays and returns on Fridays and Mondays. This means you’ll have a Thursday night to Monday morning stay in Montreal coming from New York, or a Friday night to Sunday morning stay in New York if beginning in Montreal. Labor Day has a special Tuesday morning return to NYC.

Pricing is $200 US one-way and $330 US round-trip, though you may also choose to take the plain vanilla Amtrak Adirondack,starting at $69 one-way. The Adirondack is a once-daily departure from New York at 8:15am, arriving in Montreal at 7:11pm. Return trips from Montreal depart daily at 10:20am and arrive at 8:50pm.

See more on schedule and pricing here.

History

The ultimate goal of the Jazz Train is to restart overnight service between the two cities, hence their web address, trainhotel.ca. Amtrak once ran an overnight sleeper car service from New York to Montreal via Vermont. This unique international service, which was formerly known as the Montrealer, was discontinued in the 1990s and rebranded as the Vermonter and now terminates in St. Albans in Northern Vermont.

The daytime Adirondack route runs entirely through New York State. Prior to 1991, all New York State-and Canada-bound trains departed from the ever photogenic Grand Central Terminal.

January’s 10 Best Stories in Travel

Photo: January at Labrador Mountain, Truxton, NY

I’m here to share with you my favorite stories of the month from around the web. All have an international flavor, many explore the unseen side of the places we hear about in the news. If you’re wary of traveling there, at least you’ll be able to visit vicariously through these talented authors. I’ve also added in a few travel how-to’s and what-to’s that stood out from the crowd. Enjoy.

Underground in East Ukraine
Illegal coal mining in rebel-held territory in Ukraine has its own risks and rewards and continues on despite periodic skirmishes. Read on for more on the trials of daily life in contested territory.
http://roadsandkingdoms.com/2016/underground-in-east-ukraine/

A Gift From the Sea: On China’s Land Reclamation Free-for-all
Entire new cities are rising from the sea in China as coastal areas are filled and developed at a breakneck pace, appearing to create “something for nothing”. How is it done, and what is the catch? Read on.
http://www.vagabondjourney.com/a-gift-from-the-sea-on-chinas-land-reclamation-free-for-all/

Salvation by the Slice
A veteran of the war in Ukraine opens a pizza shop in Kiev staffed entirely by veterans and finds great success serving those heading to and returning from the front. Italian food in Eastern Europe is an unlikely savior.
http://roadsandkingdoms.com/2016/salvation-by-the-slice/

Time Travel to Anadyr, Russia
Taking the world’s shortest trans-continental flight from Alaska to Russia’s Far East is like stepping back in time and exploring the rarely-seen populated corners of the Arctic. Click here for the story with great photos from Sherry Ott.
http://www.ottsworld.com/blogs/anadyr-russia-travel/

Visiting Ojai, California
Visit Ojai, the cozy and creative town outside of Los Angeles, bed down neo-hippie style in an Airstream trailer, grab a fresh brunch, and browse the outdoor bookstore. Add this place to your next road trip destination.
http://escapebrooklyn.com/ojai-california/

Ultimate List of Travel Movies
From Into the Wild to Crocodile Dundee, this list touches on the great road trip and travel movies, both classics and more recent films. You may know half this list, which will make the other half you haven’t seen even more enticing.
http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/the-ultimate-list-of-travel-movies/

How Shenzhen Became the Global Epicenter of High-Tech Innovation
Electronics designed, sourced and built in a matter of days instead of weeks or months, this is how Shenzhen is shaking up the international marketplace in computer hardware. The next Silicon Valley?
http://www.vagabondjourney.com/how-shenzhen-became-the-global-epicenter-of-high-tech-innovation/

How to Eat Street Food Without Getting Sick
Ever wonder how the locals manage to eat all the best tacos, quesadillas, and fried treats without getting sick? It’s not just the water. Read this for some new tips.
http://www.legalnomads.com/2016/01/street-food.html

A Crazy New Kind of Amazing Race: International Car Rallies
If you know me, you’ll know the Europe-to-Asia Mongol Rally is on my bucket list. Here are several other crazy options that will now be vying for our future plans.
https://www.yahoo.com/travel/a-crazy-new-kind-of-amazing-race-international-117138357567.html

The Big Cow Con
How a young South African cattle trader stole a fortune through sleight-of-hand in California’s dairy country during the booming 1990s and then disappeared with the spoils, and how he was finally caught on the other side of the world.
https://story.californiasunday.com/rocky-pipkin-agricultural-detective

Making it Mexican Street Food

Mexico, despite popular misconception, is not the land of crunchy tacos, ground beef, and shredded cheddar cheese. It is the land of chili, lime, cilantro, and onion. Lime, chili, cilantro, and onion (and meat) on a tortilla are the essence of a taco.

IMG_1057

Likewise, in Mexico, lime and chili (hot sauce, especially Valentina brand) can be added to nearly anything, from popcorn or potato chips, to fruit, to beer to make a legitimate snack.

Generally, Mexican street food starts with:

  • corn (tortillas, dough or corn-on-the-cob)
  • meat (pork, chicken, beef, goat/lamb, fish or shrimp), and often
  • fruit

It makes use of the following toppings:

  • lime
  • chili (powder, salsa or pepper)
  • cilantro
  • mayonnaise
  • cream
  • onion
  • lettuce, tomato

Some famous Mexican street foods containing the above elements:

  • tacos (right, below)
  • tamales
  • tortas
  • quesadillas / sopes
  • chilaquiles (left, below)

Some famous examples of normal food that has been “Mexicanized”:

  • michelada: beer, lime, and hot sauce
  • Hot Nuts: Japanese peanuts, chili, lime
  • tamarind pulp with chili and lime
  • mango slices with chili and lime

In this way, you too could become Mexican by dousing yourself in lime and chili, but then you would have to be eaten.

In a future post, we will explore the taxonomy of Mexican street foods, from the tame and American-friendly, to the parts of the pig you thought were inedible. Stay tuned.