Under the big old trees on Phung Khac Khoan Street, District 1, two sisters run a no frills café serving something that is not part of a typical Vietnamese breakfast.
A worn blue and yellow awning carries the name of the café - “Muoi,” or Ten. But the name is preceded by a listing of the café’s main product in fading blue letters – fresh milk.
The café only opens in the morning, and it opens very early.
I get there as the street is still sleepy and the sun is just beginning to filter through the leaves of tamarind trees. A few plastic chairs have been placed on the pavement for customers to sit and use as tables. As early as 5:30 in the morning, passers by can smell the fresh milk being boiled in the café.
Curious, I asked the owners why they’d chosen to sell fresh milk instead of other Vietnamese breakfast dishes, like sticky rice or pho or sandwiches.
Lan said she just wanted to sell something different, because Saigon already has many shops selling broken rice “com tam” or “banh mi.”
True. Not many shops sell fresh milk in Saigon, and the café attracts students and workers who have a glass of milk along with some croissants or some other bread for a quick breakfast.
I was a bit surprised to hear one order: “One sugared soy bean and three crab claws, please.” A regular patron was asking for a glass of soy bean milk with sugar and three crescent rolls (a kind of bread that looks like crab claws).
“In the past, there weren’t as many customers as now. I come here whenever I have some free time,” said Tan Hung, a customer who’d come from District 3 to the café cum milk shop.
Apart from fresh milk, the shop also serves croissants, crescent rolls, cream puffs and pate chaud for breakfast.
The sisters said they get the fresh milk from a very trustworthy farm. And those who want to take milk home can buy a liter for just VND24,000, around a dollar, and a liter of soy bean milk for half the price.
And if fresh milk is not your thing, you can add a dash (or two) of coffee for added flavor.
The sun was high up in the sky and the street was getting busier and I prepared to leave the shop. Lan handed me the cream puffs that I’d ordered to take home, saying: “Have a nice day.”