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Vietnamese informality and honesty in a cup of coffee | Cāphê by Hai Nam

Vietnamese serenity with a pinch of Scandinavian aesthetics: a place where everyone can find a coffee matching their taste. Bartók Béla út in Budapest gained a new yet already iconic café: we visited Cāphê by Hai Nam, where we asked founders Vo Son Hai and Vo Son Nam about their place.

The name Hai Nam must ring some bells to the fans of Vietnamese gastronomy and culture for sure, and if they are lucky, they also got to taste the legendary soups and rolls of Hai Nam Pho Bistro in Újbuda. Vo Son Hai and Vo Son Nam grew up in this milieu as part of the family business, so it is no coincidence that after a few bypasses, they also wanted to do something traditional yet novel in the hospitality sector.

Hai returned to Budapest after a few years of travelling and working as a flight attendant, where soon everything fell into place and with his brother he called to life Cāphê by Hai Nam. 

Why coffee? According to Hai, between two flights, and at every new destination, the experience of drinking coffee meant a safe spot for him to recharge and arrange his thoughts, and so coffee slowly became his passion. 

“After 10 years of travelling for work and for fun, I wanted to come home and bring something exciting to the area where we grew up. I worked for a Japanese airline as a flight attendant, I gained a lot of experience while travelling back and forth between European metropolises and Tokyo over the years. Building on the success of our family restaurant, I wanted to join the hospitality sector from a different angle. I primarily imagined a place where we, too, would feel at home, and where our friends would be happy to go to. Over the years, coffee has become my passion, yet I didn’t want to leave my aviation past behind either, so this phase of my life is echoed by several details of Cāphê” – Hai told us.

“We would like for the café to represent the same Vietnamese informality and honesty that the guests of the restaurant could enjoy in the past eight years, but at the same to offer an international, professional standard of service like full service on an intercontinental flight” – he continued. “Of course the members of the team also do their best to achieve this; funnily enough, most of our baristas and I have lived in London at different times, and then fate brought us all together here, on Bartók Béla út, and we do together what we do the best” – Nam added.

Cāphê by Hai Nam welcomes coffee fans with quite a diverse repertoire: they offer both light and dark roasted specialty coffee, provided by Siófok-based Maran Coffee. If you’re looking for a truly special ritual in addition to the unique taste, you can also try the traditional Vietnamese coffee made of a mixture of characteristic arabica and robusta coffees, dripping through a Phin filter on the condensed milk at the bottom of the cup. As Cāphê pays particular attention to details and to selecting their products and equipment, you can also opt for ordering your coffee to go in a special eco-conscious Huskee Cup in the spirit of sustainability, after a one-time purchase. The cup designed by an Australian company comes with a sleek design, and its peculiarity lies in the fact that it is made of coffee husk, a byproduct of coffee production. In addition to coffee, you can also choose between several specialty teas and smoothies.

Quality coffee comes with quality breakfast. In addition to the cakes and pastries of various flavors, we also get to discover a new side of Vietnamese cuisine, with the Bánh mì sandwich specialty playing a central role – we get to choose between six flavors, two sizes and a vegan version, on top. “Every country considers its own bread the best. The same thing applies to Vietnam, but we have to admit that it resembles the baguette brought in at the time of the French colonization, yet it’s still different. A good Bánh mì is extra crunchy on the outside, and airy and light on the inside so that it can be filled with the endless varieties of topping combinations. A good quality butter and home-made liver pâté gives the basis for all, this is followed by eggs, spicy meat or tofu, topped off with fresh cucumber, daikon, pickled carrots, cilantro and a home-made sauce. It wouldn’t be the same without chili sauce either, which you can add to your sandwich according to your taste at the tables” – Hai explained.

The same way as traditions meet a novel approach in Cāphê’s food and drinks selection, this gesture can also be observed in the interior of the café. The simple, clean and elegant space creates a slightly colonial, yet still cozy and familiar ambience – once again representing the Asian line in interior design. Kinga Bajor, the designer of Sodakollektiv came to help the founders with designing the atmosphere of the place.

“In a place like Bartók Béla út, where the identities of cafés are prominently unique, we figured out how we could best complement the diverse yet intertwined image of the neighborhood with Cāphê as a result of careful and thorough planning” – Nam highlighted.

The atmosphere of the café is not only unique due to the various drinks, meals and the subdued, well-thought-out interior: the Cāphê experience becomes a whole with the staff forming an inspiring, creative community. “For us it was more important to have people on our team who are just as open, caring and proactive in their personal lives too, in addition to the professional one, than to start a new business with the tried-and-true recipe. Our team includes a photographer, a creative artist, a musician, an animator, a pastry chef and a martial arts performer if we had to summarize the talents; and this is only the beginning. We would like to give room to and we specifically encourage creative initiatives” – Nam explained.

Hai and Nam plan to further boost the Asian breakfast and all-day brunch selection, and serve Vietnamese classics like xôi, a version of sticky fried rice or a Vietnamese rice porridge called cháo. Culinary experiences are completed by cultural ones, thus Cāphê would also like to serve as a venue for various tasting events, book clubs, mini concerts, exhibitions and design fairs.

“Since our opening two months ago, we have already served as the venue of study groups, business meetings, baby-mommy meetups, popup offices and first dates for the community of Bartók Béla út. We can’t wait to see what else we can be a part of in the upcoming years!” – they highlighted.

Photos: Balázs Csizik

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