The World On A Plate

   

Beer Hoi, Hanoi, Vietnam

August11

Amazing beer hoi! To blame for so many of my happy times, and my more infamous times!

Probably the cheapest beer in the world, and very tasty

Beer hoi is essentially a home-brewed lager sold direct from the cask on the streets of Hanoi. Beer hoi sellers also provide little plastic chairs so you can drink in discomfort, but for the price it’s well worth it. Fresh beer costs around 25p (18cents) per glass. With glasses being a little under a pint (0.5 litre) measurement.

Look for the blurry sign on the streets of Hanoi...

You can’t tell the strength, thought it’s probably quite weak – although my drunken nights in various late night Hanoi establishments would perhaps beg to differ. The best thing about it is the insanely low price ensures a very pleasing bonhomie, even amongst the uber-budget backpacker types. Depending on the size of your group you can buy everyone at the table a beer for under $2 which is value where you need it most.

Beer hoi is generally found on the larger crossroads of the old town in Hanoi. Luong Ngoc Quyen and Ta Hien Streets is probably the most well known and lively.

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Biting the Heart from a Live Snake, Hanoi, Vietnam

August18

Holding the snake ready

I was aware that the eating of snake’s heart was a Vietnamese tradition. So I duly went along to the nearest ‘snake village’ to Hanoi, where the creatures are farmed for meat. It was only on arrival that we (there was a group of us) were told that we would actually be biting the still beating heart out of the live snake. This was horribly unexpected. Some of the group could also volunteer to slice the snake open first.

To be fair the snakes had been frozen first (I think – they didn’t move around much, all things considered). But the whole experience was really quite upsetting. Seeing those little beady eyes and flickering tongue up close.

Snake bones

They were only little snakes, so when my time came to bite out the beating heart I was quite relieved to see a heart about the size of a peanut. My concern at this stage was to get things over with as soon as possible for the poor snake, so I declined the option to rest my tongue against the live heart to feel it’s pulse.

Snake skin plus snake fat (yellow stuff to the left)

The heart itself was salty, bloody in taste and cold. You don’t expect this as a warm-blooded species.

After The Eating Of The Heart we were then given a five course parade of various snake bits cooked in different ways. There was snake skin, stir-fried, crunchy and… well, it was OK. Snake bones – more of the same and actually pretty nice. Snake fat, mixed into a rice dish, which probably would have been delicious if you hadn’t of known what it was, and then finally snake fillet meat. Disturbingly grey, but nice – like a meaty kind of fish.

Snake blood and bile in rice wine

Oh, and snake bile. I’d forgotten about the bile. Also blood. Washed down with rice wine. It didn’t taste any worse than the rice wine, which I suppose is something. Luckily there were beers on hand to negate the taste of both.

Snake Village outside Hanoi, tours can be arranged from Hanoi Backpackers

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Girl Eats Dog – Hanoi

April21

 

Boiled Dog with Dog Liver

I didn’t think it would be possible to beat the psychological horror of eating duck embryo in Cambodia, but in Vietnam I found a viable contender. So far, out of anything I have eaten, this is the single most disgusting thing.

Arriving to the corrugated iron shack just north of Hanoi was atmospheric for all the wrong reasons, and why we were mercifully spared the barking of dogs in the background there was a distinctive smell as we crossed the threshold. As my friend Al was to later observe, it was the only meat which smelled and tasted like the shit of the actual animal.

I should add at this juncture that I do have some very small justification for the crime of eating man’s best friend. I like dogs a lot. But my friend Laura was badly mauled in Cambodia by a rabid dog, and for her, this was a vengeance trip. As a good friend I was duty bound to keep her company.

We ordered dog in every variety, which was boiled, roasted and stewed, and when the first plate of sliced boiled dog came, it included dog liver.

 

Dog Restaurant

At this stage, the meat didn’t seem too bad. At a real push you could have mistaken the cold meat for beef, and the liver was not too bad at all. Unless, that is, you dwelled too long on where it had come from. Then came the roasted. Again, passable for roasted lamb. Tough, tough roasted lamb. With disconcerting chunks of hair. There was another deeper, darker taste lurking the background. But if you’d been served it in a kebab whilst drunk there is a slim chance you wouldn’t have known the difference. We were then served a highly unwelcome extra – dog sausage. Like black pudding. Only not.

 

Roast Dog

Finally came the dog stew. I was first to put a chunk in my mouth, and was unable to answer me fellow diners queries as to how it tasted as I was too busy trying not to openly retch. It took a full ten seconds to persuade my heaving stomach to relinquish the powerful urge to vomit and allow the blubbery foul tasting meat down. I gagged. My eyes watered. I drank a half bottle of beer but nothing would take the taste away.

 

Dog Stew

Lulled into a false sense of security by my silence the people with me also attempted the stew. Similar eye watering retching followed. It was absolutely the most abhorrent thing I have ever eaten by a log long margin. I’m not exaggerating when I say the entire experience honestly had me considering going vegetarian. It was such a foul thing to eat that it made me wonder very seriously if all meat wasn’t this psychologically upsetting, but society has somehow hypnotized us to enjoy it. After all, there were local people in the restaurant for whom the experience was clearly not new.

It took around four days afterwards not to retch at the smell of barbecue smoke, and the real problem came to getting rid of the stuff when we’d finished. We had it boxed up so as not to waste it, and very nearly left the boxes on the table because no-one wanted to touch it.

 

Dog Sausage

I was all for leaving it in the cab for the driver, but as friend Rob pointed out ‘it might spill dog stew all over the car.” Then he said, “that’s a sentence I never thought I’d say.”

We left the boxes on the back streets of Hanoi, and this at least gave rise to the observation there are precious few beggars (none we saw) in the communist capital. So the one slim silver lining on the whole dreadful experience was I have an interesting counter argument to people who say communism doesn’t work in practice…

There is an entire street dedicated to dog eating heading on the north road of De Song Hong out of Hanoi. Best way to find it is write down Vietnamese for dog ‘thit cho’ and point at it for a cab driver. Thit Cho Nhat Tan is one of the restaurant names. 

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