Culinary Exploration

A Hanoi restaurant advertising "Tuna" and "Beep" (sic).

The Vietnamese will eat anything that's edible and tastes good. Although I may have gone too far when I added "and tastes good." This is, after all, the country that brought us fish sauce (although I must admit I've developed a taste for the stuff so long as it isn't directly under my nose in its unadulterated form). Lonely Planet has a "We Dare You!" list, including crickets, dog, duck embryo, field mouse, and king cobra. To this, I've added a couple items of my own: oc (snails), and chon.

The latter requires a bit of preemptive defence ... Who invented kim chee? Let's stick some cabbage in the ground for a month or two and then eat it after it rots. Or blue cheese - this cheese is rotten and stinks, lets try it! Or alcohol - sugar and yeast create entertaining toxins. So ... chon. The Vietnamese are very fond of their coffee, and chon is considered by some to be the very best you can get. It gets that way by being run through the intestinal tract of a particular type of weasel, after which the beans must be collected from the weasel's excrement. Sounds like a great idea to me ... Enough so that I gave it a try, and it's a pretty good (but expensive) coffee. The flavour is different, although I'm not sure I could describe it.

I had "Bun Oc" a few days ago. The snails are about the size of a golf ball, although they're served without their shell. The way Bun Oc is prepared is this: dump a bunch of rice noodles in a bowl. Add a teaspoon of sugar. Add about eight shell-less snails. Dump on a basil(?) and green onion mix. Finally, drench it all in a soup stock that's got a good number of tomato slices stewing in it. Serve with torn up lettuce leaves to throw on top. I have to admit to some confusion: if it's a soup, isn't that "Pho Oc?" Oh well. The place I visited was apparently serving nothing but Bun Oc that night. Pretty good: imagine very chewy oversize clams. Cost? 15,000 dong, or about $1.00 US.

In case you're wondering, I don't know how I'll do with LP's list ... I'd love to try snake, and I'm willing to try dog (although I'm not going to go out of my way to do so), but I'm not too sure about the rest. I've never eaten insects and they would be a considerable challenge!