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Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Snakes & other wriggly things for dinner. Vietnam memories

Street vendors
The author's guests at the Cirque Hippique, Saigon
When I first arrived in Vietnam I mostly ate United States army food in the various camps I was stationed at. Off base in some towns there were officer’s messes as well. The food in these wasn’t bad but in the camps there was a set menu which changed each day for a week but was then repeated week in week out.
In the French restaurants I was able to order what I wanted having a fair use of the language, but my first attempts to eat Vietnamese food were usually a failure as I didn’t know the language. I would go into the kitchen, none to wise from a sanitary point of view and then point to the food I wanted to eat. However the exotic dishes I ordered had been Americanised into something utterly uninviting by the time they arrived on my table.
I solved the problem by getting my own house and maid/cook. She would then serve me Vietnamese dishes. She would go to the market each day so everything was fresh. She only had two small charcoal stoves to cook on. The result was always appetizing. I did eat some odd things whilst in Vietnam, from twenty one day eggs, to a form of grasshopper and something that I am not sure if it was snake or eel.

The following article might give one the wrong idea about Vietnamese food. Most people ate quite normally.
Disgusting Food: The Sport of Eating
By Patricia Chang, Scienceline
posted: 29 October 2007 08:15 am ET

Her most interesting dining experience took place in a small Vietnam village, nicknamed “Snake Village.”
“First they [waiters] bring the snakes out and they slit them all the way down while they’re alive,” she explained to me one day over dinner. “They squeeze out all the blood and pour it into shot glasses mixed with a tiny bit of rice wine. They cut out the still-beating hearts and leave them on a small plate, and then the gall bladders on another plate. We dropped the hearts in the shots of blood and drank. Next we dropped the gall bladders in shots of rice wine and drank. The snakes were taken in to the kitchen and used to prepare our meal.”
Others might feel queasy, but Lau said the ritual excited her. “[I] enjoyed the spectacle of the snakes being sliced open,” she confessed.

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