While we traveled throughout Vietnam we inevitably came in contact with some very exotic Vietnamese foods. Indeed, Asians (especially in Vietnam) have an infamous reputation for eating and drinking very strange things in pursuit of virility and health benefits. However, Western observers view this traditional food with deep skepticism. This because Western culture loves their Christmas puppies and has disdain for creepy, crawly things.
Although in our defense I must explain that we also tried some less politically condemned food and drink such as barbecued crocodile and snake and scorpion rice wine.
Why Do People Eat Dog Meat?
Eating dog meat is taboo in the west. However, dog meat is still widely consumed in the Americas, Africa, Asia and even Switzerland. For example, it it estimated that worldwide 25,000,000 dogs are consumed annually by humans.
One of the main reasons people eat dog meat, is of course economical. As a result, people will consume dogs if there is no alternative. However, similar to other exotic Vietnamese foods, there are also some intangible or mythical qualities behind the consumption of dog meat.
Indeed, the Vietnamese believe that eating dog will bring good fortune and increase the libido. As a result, in Hanoi, there are a lot of restaurants specializing only in serving dog meat. Additionally, many restaurants are only open in the 2nd half of the lunar month for reasons related to astrology and luck.
Unfortunately, a strong economy does not bring much good luck to dogs in Vietnam! Indeed, when people have more money, the consumption of dog meat increases. Additionally, instances of dog theft increase. A 45 kilogram dog can sell for $100 USD equivalent which is one month salary for the average worker in Vietnam.
Eating Dog Meat in NW Vietnam
Sympathy for dogs did not hinder my girlfriend from wanting to try it. The opportunity arose when we were visiting Son La in the NW mountain region. Our driver arranged for us to have dinner with some relatives of his and they knew how to make dog.
Also, an added disclaimer is that I was not aware we would be served dog. It was not the main course and my epicurean girlfriend had made this special request without my prior acknowledgment.
Clockwise from the left is my curious female friend, our guide, our driver, our host, his wife has her back to me and then their 2 children.
If you observe the apprehension on the Vietnamese girl’s face you could deduce that her generation is not very keen on exotic Vietnamese foods. Nonetheless, everyone thought it was pretty amusing.
What Does Dog Meat Taste Like?
Modern Vietnamese Cultural Trends
I think she may have been feeling a bit of remorse. Fortunately for dog lovers that seems to be the prevailing trend in Vietnam. Due to rising income levels, more and more Vietnamese are keeping designer dogs as pets.
A purebred dog can be very expensive, costing hundreds of millions of Dong or thousands of USD equivalent. Expensive Christmas puppies don’t taste as good and it has helped induce cultural moderation.
Being originally from the US, I am sometimes targeted with certain predictable questions. Unfortunately, our host asked me (through the guide) the inevitable question “What do you think of Obama?”
My answer was converted to Vietnamese and passed over to our host. The host replied in Vietnamese and then started laughing. However, translation was not necessary because I know what “I told you so” sounds like in any language.
Drinking Snake and Scorpion Rice Wine
We tried snake and scorpion rice wine on a different night. I was grateful, because I would not be able to handle two exotic Vietnamese foods on the same night. As a result, we purchased a bottle of snake and scorpion rice wine a few weeks later in Binh Thuan Province in SE Vietnam.
First of all, if you doubt the cobra and black scorpion are real, think again because they are 100% authentic. The reputed health benefits are of course increased sexual stamina and also relief from back pain or muscle aches.
Both the scorpion and the cobra are poisonous however, the poison is neutralized by the alcohol content of the rice wine. Note that the rice wine is very strong similar to vodka, not like the grape variety of white wine.
Unfortunately, I will never drink this stuff again. The taste of decomposing life stuck in my mouth for way to long. However, to be fair I should admit that I put the bottle in the fridge to chill it before we drank some. It is possible this may have adversely affected the taste. Maybe it is better to drink it at room temperature? Probably not…
Barbecue Exotic Vietnamese Foods in SE Vietnam
One evening we were returning from our visit to Bao Trang Sand Dunes. While driving through the beach community of Mui Ne, I spotted what was unmistakably a large crocodile on a barbecue spit in front of a local restaurant. Therefore, we pulled over to investigate.
In my opinion, when compared to the former, eating crocodile is pretty normal. I only had a little bit, however it is a lean white meat with a slightly gamy flavor. Additionally, just in case you have not already guessed – it does taste a something like rubbery chicken.
However, seeing a large crocodile being roasted on a barbecue is certainly eye catching. Therefore, of all the exotic Vietnamese foods it was certainly the most visually striking.
Wild and Exotic Vietnamese Foods
There are many varieties of strange Vietnamese foods and drinks to try in Vietnam. Wild and exotic food such as coffee made from cat dung, snake meat, duck embryo, raw blood soup and mice meat would be included on the list of strange food in Vietnam. Also, I read somewhere that goat testicles in Vietnamese rice wine is another way to increase sexual stamina? It probably tastes better than the snake and scorpion version.
However, these exotic Vietnamese foods listed above are as far as I am willing to go down the dark and winding path of strange food to try in Vietnam.