“Hello, my name is Ashley, and I am an addict.”
If it’s in the house, I can’t stop myself, I practically inhale every last crystal. I rip apart the plastic with a knife if it’s near or with my teeth if it’s not. I don’t even bother with a bowl. In my frenzy to ingest, I abandon all decorum and give in to my most primitive nature.
And that’s why I can’t buy ice cream— at least not at the supermarket like a normal person. I know all too well my penchant for devouring the entire purchase before night’s end. To avoid the inevitable stomach ache resulting from such behavior, I instead dig deep in my pockets for the change to cover the exorbitant cost of a single scoop at an ice cream parlor.
Frugality keeps me from doing this too often in my home country and I thought I was safe in Vietnam. After all, dairy milk is still difficult to come by and the culture is essentially built on its substitute, condensed milk. I assumed I would have cravings, but with nowhere to satisfy these, I was sure they would eventually subside.
I was wrong.
Ho Chi Minh proved a fruitless search. Hanoi, on the other hand, is a mecca for ice cream enthusiasts such as myself. And I didn’t just stop at ice cream. Oh no. I jumped right down that rabbit’s hole and found myself combing the streets for other sweets to sample— all in the name of research, of course.
Here are my findings, ranked in no particular order:
An institution since 1958, Kem Trang Tien is one of two of the most popular ice cream brands in Hanoi. Dirt cheap (about 6-8,000 dong; $.27-.36 cents) and divinely simple, this is the ice cream parlor of yesteryear. Motorbikes line in and around the elongated interior as children and adults alike wait with surprising patience for their scoops or bars. For the record, both are fantastic.
In addition to its ultra cool throw-back design concept filled with 1970s war memorabilia and communist art, Cong Ca Phe boasts the best coffee in town (note: I’m citing a local here for added credability.) Why is it in my dessert post then? The coconut coffee. Not a coconut fan myself, I was a bit skeptical at first. Then I took my first bite and have been making ritual trips back since. An island of blended coconut cream is surrounded by the aforementioned exceptional coffee, creating a delectable frozen treat that is not to be missed.
I’m not new to the concept of liquid nitrogen ice cream, so novelty is not what won me over here. The ice cream is just that good. Made with care by one of the teenagers at the counter and presented in a glass ice cream flute, I found myself spending three hours at this little cafe. The wifi is fast, the ambience is cool and the staff are very polite. My only critique? The cone is a bit brittle to hold the dense frozen cream. But I’m a messy eater anyway, so I hardly noticed.
Two words: egg coffee. Gross right? Wrong! It’s tiramisu in liquid form. And it is delicious. Follow the narrow alley down to the cafe, plop yourself down on one of the wooden stools on either the ground floor or the second story terrace and soak in the local energy.
I don’t even know where to begin. Though you can’t go wrong with any of the pastries, cakes, pies or muffins, I personally suggest the chocolate cheesecake. It’s timeless. For a more seasonal selection, opt for the fresh apple pie a la mode— they make their own ice cream!
So there you have it, my favorite ice cream and dessert locations in Hanoi– five places to get your sugar fix. As the city will be my base for my month in Northern Vietnam, this list may grow. I’m not giving up hope that there are other gems out there ready to be discovered. The search continues!