Snake heart not for the faint of heart

The list of things I eat in Vietnam grows weirder by the month, and by the mouthful.

The food in Vietnam is phenomenal. There is an abundance of flavour, variety, style, and personality to the dishes in Vietnam. Vietnam could very well be the cuisine capital of Asia.

When I moved to Vietnam, there were only two things I decided I didn’t want to eat: 1) dog 2) cat. Anything else is fair game; no matter how much it might make me cringe.

I crossed the usual Vietnamese dishes off my list long ago, meals such as Pho (Vietnam’s most famous dish – beef noodle soup or fried beef noodle), spring rolls (fried and fresh), Bun Cha (fresh noodle with meatballs), Cha Ca (fried fish with rice noodle), and other traditional dishes were all devoured early on in my arrival to Hanoi.

After that, I began experimenting with things that were different for me. I started to explore the culinary possibilities. There really is no limit to what you can try in Vietnam. One friend joked with me, “We are Vietnamese, we eat everything that moves, doesn’t move, is dead, alive, beating, rotting, in a coma, poisonous, anything; we eat anything.”

One thing that I always laughed about when talking food with my Vietnamese friends before I moved here, was pigeons. It is just very hard for me to relate to pigeon-eating. These birds are considered to be filthy, dirty, disgusting rats with wings in my country, and I wouldn’t be caught dead eating one back home. Well, this certainly isn’t home and I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Todo. I ate pigeon and I’m sure I will receive some looks of disgust from family and friends when I tell them but, don’t worry, that was just the tip of the iceberg, there’s more. I ate sparrow which just seems to small and innocent to eat. I ate locusts which weren’t a problem after my insect binge in Thailand. I discovered banh my (bread) dishes and ate it with anything and everything imaginable. Back home, we have a saying, “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.” In Vietnam, they just eat the horse, and yes, now I have eaten that too.

If all of that isn’t enough to make a non-Vietnamese stomach turn, this next one might get you. I tried a dish, which many Vietnamese don’t even know about. My friend described it to me as the tube, perhaps the urethra tube, of a pig’s penis. In Vietnamese, it is called “dây” which means string. Whatever comes out on that plate, all I can tell you is that it looks like string, hence the name. I must admit, the taste was fine, but knowing WHAT I was eating made it impossible to go far. I ate enough to be able to say I’ve tried it but I don’t think you will catch me trying it again. I had to drink large amounts of beer to wash it down as I could feel my mind telling my stomach to vomit.

Yes, there have been many firsts for me in the area of cuisine here in Vietnam. Many unique, delightful, and occasionally disgusting food experiences. Overall, I can say that Vietnamese food is in a tie with Thai food for the best I’ve had in the ten countries in Asia that I’ve spent substantial time in. The tastes of Vietnam are as varied as the history. While perhaps influenced by the many different facets of things that have effected this mesmerizing country, everything here is still; UNIQUELY VIETNAM. Even the banh my (bread) which I love so much, has its very own Vietnamaese touch.

Recently I had an experience with food that might just take the cake for me. Snake is common in Vietnam. I’ve eaten it once before back home, small chunks of rattle snake were put into a dip and eaten with chips. That was nothing. As we entered Le Mat restaurant to devour some snake I could see that this was going to be unique. The restaurant is large and intricately detailed. There are cages filled with boa constrictor snakes, birds, even a pig. A huge snake was selected for us from the cage, grabbed and spun around by a thin metal stick, then thrown into a bag and taken away to its doom.

First thing is first, and that is the snake heart. Being a newcomer to snake cuisine, I was the chosen one to eat it. The heart comes out on a small plate, blood and all. It is warm and still moves. Initially I tried to pick it up with my chopsticks intending to just to get it over with, but I was informed that this was not the proper way to consume a snake heart. The heart needs to be dropped into a shot glass with snake blood and wine, then swallowed quickly. Even my Vietnamese companions looked on in disgust as I gulped it down.

After the heart, we were treated to ten various snake dishes. Crushed bone, snake skin, spring roll snake, grilled snake, stir-fried snake, simmered snake, snake soup, snake porridge, snake liquor with bile and snake liquor with blood. It’s a feast fit for a king if your stomach can handle it. If you haven’t tried, I suggest you do. The meal is a process and one that won’t leave you hungry. If you have the heart, I suggest you eat the heart. Oh, the things we eat in Vietnam; I can’t wait to see what’s next for my mouth…. Back to News Main Page

 


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