Tamtam cafe

     

With characteristic entrepreneurial spirit, the residents of Hoi An are taking the foreign tourist invasion in stride. A whole range of businesses have sprung up, including guesthouses, restaurants, travel agencies và silk tailor shops. One such enterprise is a bar-restaurant run by a voluble French expatriate named Christophe. His Tam-Tam coffe is certainly not the first foreign-operated establishment in Hoi An, but I"m sure that it is one of the most enjoyable.

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Originally from Normandie, Christophe first fell in love while touring the nation by motorcycle. He traversed the length of the country three times, putting 30,000 kilometers on his motorbike. Christophe went, as he puts it, "by the small way." This intimate backroads journey showed him a side of the country that few travelers ever see & by the over of his travels Christophe knew that he wanted lớn live here. This necessitated earning a living, và voila--the idea of the Tam-Tam cafe came into being.

Two years later, in November of 1996, the Tam-Tam coffe finally opened its doors. Starting the business had been a lengthy and complicated process. Christophe first had khổng lồ find a suitable location. After careful thought, he chose Hoi An for its laid-back small-town charm and steady supply of foreigners. Next he had khổng lồ find a Vietnamese business partner và locate an appropriate building. After he & his partner bought the building, it had lớn be extensively renovated.

Like every building in Hoi An"s historic town center, the building Christophe acquired at 110 Nguyen thai Hoc Street has a story to lớn tell. Constructed in 1932 by the French, the cà phê originally served as a colonial residence. Phối one street back from the Thu Bon River, the building shared a street with some of the oldest homes in Hoi An. Chinese merchants later used the home as a tea warehouse & the modified warehouse layout provided the floor plan on which Christophe based the café. In a dusty corner of the building Christophe even found the original sign for the tea company, complete with the prewar French street name. The carefully restored wooden sign now hangs in the Tam-Tam cà phê and reads:

Cam Thanh-Hieu28 Rue des CantonnaisAnnam,Faifo

During the renovations Christophe sought lớn preserve the "China spirit" of the building. He succeeded brilliantly; certainly the Tam-Tam stands out as one of the most attractive cafes I saw. Much of the interior is original, from the arched doorways khổng lồ the roof beams of the high-peaked ceiling where the occasional bat flits about at night, flirting with ceiling-fan disaster. Hardwood planks floor the spacious bar và lounge; the restaurant features the original Chinese tile. Gleaming lượt thích a snake, the polished wood bar curves in a gentle 12-meter S-shape, behind which are xuất hiện windows that catch the breeze. The decor is an understated set of rattan furniture, black và white framed photographs and subdued lighting. A 300-CD collection keeps the stereo system going và the pool table entertains an international cast of late-night beer drinkers.

Christophe chose the name "Tam-Tam Cafe" because he wanted a universally recognizable name suitable for a place that would serve people from all over the world. On any given night I could meet people from Sydney, Singapore, Stockholm and San Francisco, but regardless of their mother tongue, I felt sure that they all recognized a tam-tam as a percussion instrument. The word "tam-tam" carries a double meaning as well, because in old Vietnamese it means the number 33, which is considered lucky. When naming his cafe, Christophe wisely figured that a dash of bonne chance couldn"t hurt.

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Christophe offers an imaginative selection of alcoholic và nonalcoholic mixed drinks that he takes special pride in preparing just right. One night I looked on as he enlisted the help of a Mexican traveler named Gebran in making margaritas. Gebran, a former bartender himself, advised adding a dash of orange juice. Gebran turned up his nose at the well-traveled bottles of Corona that sold for an impressive 40,000 dong* & joined me instead in appreciating the draft BGI beer brewed in nearby Danang (9,000 for 30 cl./16,000 for 60 cl). Each draft came in a frosted glass mug designed by Christophe and made by local glassmakers. A light, crisp and refreshing brew, BGI remains the perfect beer for a hot summer evening. I reckon BGI is the best beer produced in Vietnam và the fact Christophe has made it the cafe"s principal beer shows his insistence on quality.

BGI draft beer aside, the Tam-Tam"s wonderful balcony overlooking Nguyen bầu Hoc Street remains one of my favorite features of the cafe. From this second-floor vista I enjoyed pasta marinara và French wine while watching the passersby below. On this tranquil, narrow street I saw old peasant women in conical hats, children playing badminton, women bicycling in white silk ao dais, kids selling lottery tickets & motorbikes carrying families of four.

For the time being, the Tam-Tam Cafe"s restaurant serves only dinner although occasionally Christophe prepares lunch for prearranged tour groups. He offers French và Italian food, plus international bar fare like baguette sandwiches (20-30,000 dong), french fries & various kinds of soup. Crepes are a house specialty & range from 10-40,000 dong each. The restaurant does not have any Vietnamese food on its thực đơn as Christophe does not want khổng lồ compete with local restaurants. He knows such competition would not endear him lớn the community and besides, he explained with a Gallic shrug, the locals will always be able to lớn prepare Vietnamese cuisine better than he ever could. Christophe focuses instead on what nobody else in Hoi An serves: gourmet European food.

An ambassador at heart, Christophe tries khổng lồ give something back to lớn Hoi An. Aside from employing fourteen local people, Christophe runs a book exchange program in which travelers can swap their book for any title on the cafe"s shelves. They pay 5,000 dong each time they vì chưng this & the money goes to the Australian Association. The Association then puts the money to lớn use in the community. Christophe says proudly that his book exchange helped buy a baby water buffalo for a nearby village that could not afford to purchase one on their own.

Christophe clearly has the spirit, & the money will no doubt follow. But money is not the issue; clearly the Tam-Tam cafe remains Christophe"s labor of love--for Vietnam, for the amazing assortment of international patrons, for fine food, drink and conversation. If you go to lớn Hoi An, be sure to lớn climb the stairs to lớn the Tam-Tam coffe and enjoy its Franco-Vietnamese joie de vivre.

Author"s note: I visited the Tam-Tam coffe in June 1997, when the US dollar fetched 11,650 Vietnamese dong.


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