During one of our trips to Vietnam, we discovered some "interesting" food while exploring Ho Chi Minh City (a.k.a. Saigon) — well, probably a little away from tourist areas. These are common food to the locals although they seem "bizarre" to us as travellers. And we didn't specifically go on a hunt for them, they sort of "popped up" right in front of us while we were walking down some streets.
And we came across 6 bizarre food in just 4 days in Saigon. Always adventurous and daring at heart, I gave these food a try even though my companions were scared stiff — you probably will too.
1. Snake Wine (rượu rắn)
Shops selling homemade snake wine can be spotted quite easily in Saigon. For drinking, the wine is usually sold in 500ml mineral water bottles (per Xi). Vietnamese believes that drinking snake wine can improve health and virility. As souvenirs for tourists, the wine are sold in small ornamental bottles containing whole snakes, usually cobras — of course, travellers may have troubles clearing customs checks in their home countries.
However, a closer look at what are inside the large glass containers will give travellers a rude shock — snake wine is not made by immersing just one or couple of snakes in alcohol. Apart from various types of snake, including venomous ones such as pit vipers and cobras, there are scorpions, young pangolins, monitor lizards, geckos, some birds (one looks like a crow), etc, and also medicinal herbs. It is more a reptile wine than snake wine.
How does it tastes like? Strong alcohol with faint stale animal smell. I bought a bottle of 500ml to share with my travel companions but could not finish it.
Frog is a very common food staple in the world. Most western countries sell only frog legs, not the other body parts. Although whole frogs are consumed in most Southeast Asian countries, they are usually skinned and cut into smaller pieces for easy eating.
It wasn't a big deal when we ordered a frog dish in one of the local restaurants — until the dish was put on our dining table. The two frogs were not skinned and still in whole! Cleared of innards, the frogs were grilled with spices and served in their original form.
Despite the shock of seeing whole frogs on a plate the first time, it was still frog meat. The skin was crispy, like fried salmon skin, and it did not taste as bad as it looked. Overall, it was still a savoury dish. I was stopped from ordering more.
3. Duck Embryo (hột vịt lộn)
This is fertilised duck eggs with a developing duck in it. The egg is boiled and the content eaten with condiments. Sounds easy — except when you take a peek at the ghastly sight inside the shell! The appearance alone can turn most travellers off. And that is the main psychological hurdle. Once passed that hurdle, it will be easy to scoop up the content and devour it.
It was like eating boiled egg with duck meat, and probably with some bones, feather and a beak!
The duck embryo in Saigon was not my first time as I had tried it before in Cambodia. But I made my travel companions ate an egg each — with horrible looks on their faces.
4. Silkworm Pupae
Silkworm pupae is a popular snack in most Asian countries and in some other parts of the world. It contains high-quality proteins and lipid. Fried silkworm pupae are commonly sold by street vendors on pushcarts with other fried insects. In Saigon, raw pupae are available in convenience shops! They are sold by weight.
I bought a handful from a shop and intended to eat it with snake wine, not knowing that the pupae were actually raw. The staff of the guest house saw what I was trying to do and insisted on cooking it for me. They fried the pupae with butter.
They were quite tasty actually.
5. Weasel Coffee (cà phê chồn)
Weasel — or civet cat to be correct — coffee is produced only in Southeast Asia, more commonly in Indonesia, The Philippines and Vietnam. The coffee berries are eaten by the civets and the indigestible seeds are recovered from their feces, cleaned and sold. It is said that these seeds made better-quality coffees as the civets will pick only the best ripe coffee berries to eat. The civets' body enzymes also add flavours to the coffee seeds. Weasel coffee are usually sold at high prices.
In Saigon, Weasel coffee are available in Ben Thanh Market at really low prices. But, not everyone can tell if the weasel coffee sold there are authentic. I also can't be sure whether the weasel coffee that I tried was the real deal. Be it authentic or not, I did tried the coffee "thinking" it was real. If you are really interested, make sure to get from trustworthy sources.
By the way, I tried the real deal in Indonesia (known as kopi luwak).
6. Dog Meat (Thịt chó)
Vietnamese has been rearing dogs for consumption for centuries and it is a deeply-rooted culture of theirs. And if you were to ask a Vietnamese to recommend something special for dinner, chances are, you will end up in an alley with some shops selling dog meat. That was exactly what we did. Nevertheless, we still tried the Vietnamese ways of eating dog meat — hotpot-style, steamed and fried.
It was not my first time eating dog meat although it was the first time in Vietnam. But, what is more bizarre is not the meat but the dipping sauce (lower-right corner in the photo). Known locally as mắm tôm, the sauce was made with fermented shrimp paste, purple in colour and gave off a pungent smell. I didn't like the taste but still dip the steamed dog meat, wrapped in leaves, in the sauce and eat like locals.
In just few days in Ho Chi Minh City, we discovered these bizarre food "unintentionally". Who knows what lies in other parts of Vietnam. I heard bats and rice field rodents are eaten in Hanoi, have you tried?