I have always had a great stomach for weird-ass food. Coming from a country like India where vegetarianism is hugely prevalent (my mom being a staunch one), my love for strange food is considered rather preposterous. Vietnam was my first ever solo trip. I had absolutely no clue what to expect and I dove right into the beautiful country with just two nights booked at a hostel in Hanoi. The rest of my trip went by, well, mostly winging it. And honestly, if I had to go back and redo the trip, I wouldn’t change a thing. I still look at some of the food choices I made, somewhat aghast but utterly proud that I managed to go survive them, albeit slightly disgusted.
Let me take you through my food journey in Vietnam and you can decide for yourself, if it is for you!
1.Snake Village- Not for the weak of heart!
Location: Le Mat
My first encounter with these supremely strange decanters happened when my local bus en route Mai Chau stopped for a coffee break. I went ahead and ordered myself some delicious Vietnamese coffee made from condensed milk. When I went to the counter to pay for it, I noticed these ghastly decanters placed next to it. There were snakes and lizards preserved in alcohol, as I was informed later by the shopkeeper who was quite amused at my shrill shriek when I realised there were lizards in them. I have a ridiculous phobia for lizards. I have tried to overcome this irrational fear over the years but failed miserably to do so. The guide explained to me that the alcohol is consumed by men for virility.
If you want to give it a try, you can head to Le Mat village near Hanoi which is full of these alcohol preserved reptiles. The weirdest thing to try is popping a snake’s beating heart and taking a shot of vodka mixed with snake blood. Sounds creepy as hell but it’s all over in a second.
2. Frog legs and rice wine
Location: Hanoi Old Quarter
Hanoi’s old quarters is the backpacker’s paradise. The hostels there run some pretty crazy happy hours. Take a break from it and grab some juicy frog’s legs and rice wine at the local bia hois (beer shops). The wine is highly potent and guarantees a sure shot hangover. If you dig that, it costs only 40,000 dongs a bottle. The dish is actually pretty delicious once you get over the fact that you might be gnawing at a dead frog’s leg. I say, go for it!
3. Sticky Bamboo Rice
Location: Enroute Mai Chau
The bus to Mai Chau, a small village about 4 hours from Hanoi, picks you up really early in the morning. Make sure you do a quick pit stop to try sticky bamboo rice dipped in a powdery mix of sesame seeds and salt. It is a very light but super yummy snack. They stuff rice into a bamboo stick and slow cook it over fire. Top this up with some strong Viet coffee. This should keep you up for the beautiful roads ahead lined with lush paddy fields.
4. Strange sea food
Location: Lang Co beach
I took a lovely bike ride through Hai Van pass which is regarded one of the most beautiful bike routes in the world. It has hills on one side and the sea on the other. We stopped at a local restaurant for lunch that was sea facing. We could choose which marine animal we wanted to eat from the live aquarium. I am not even sure what some of these strange creatures in the aquarium were called. Some sort of snails I am guessing. I was being safe as I had a long distance to cover on the bike, so I went with mussels and shrimp but if you have the guts, go ahead and order something a little more out there.
5. Pork Blood pho
Location: Most parts of Vietnam
The Viet put all parts of the pig including liver, kidney, intestines and lard in their pho (stew with noodles and meat) and banh mi’s (baguettes). This deceptively innocent looking dish contains bits of pork, beef and coagulated pig blood which tastes like salty jelly. This was my usual breakfast every morning. It is a very healthy and wholesome meal as it has noodles, sprouts, leeks, and meat so there you have your carbs, veggies and protein covered!
6. Barbequed Squid
Location: Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi Old Quarter
All across Vietnam especially in the cities, you will find street carts that sell all sorts of snacks that go well with the local beer. The most fascinating was flattened alcohol barbecued squid. To be honest, they are chewy and taste like shoe! Try some with the local beer if you must – makes it a little bearable.
7. Porcupine meat
One of the reasons I went to Dalat was to try porcupine meat. I was lucky (or not) to taste some at a Vietnamese wedding. Not too big a fan of it!
TAKEAWAY: Porcupine meat is available in only select places and is quite expensive at 500,000 dong a plate. You have to pre order this at the restaurants so make sure you inform them in the afternoon if you want it prepared for dinner. The meat tastes a bit like old cheese. Farmed porcupine is expensive. Dubiously cheap ones are best avoided, as they were probably killed illegally in the wild.
8. Snails in lemon grass
Location: Dalat, Hanoi Old Quarters
Again one of the dishes Dalat is known for, this dish is b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l. They scoop out the snail, wrap it in pork and tuck it back into its shell with lemon grass sticks. The lemon grass adds to the herb-like flavour, the pork lends the saltiness and the snail meat, the crunchiness.
This dish was my perfect initiation to snail meat! An absolute must try when you visit Vietnam.
9. Weasel Shit Coffee
Location: Dalat, Hanoi Old Quarters, Ho Chi Minh
I have no idea why or how this coffee was invented! Like a person actually thought let me go looking for wild weasel poo and try the coffee bean it just shat out. Anyway it was too strong for my taste but those who love strong coffee might like it. Some people argue that the weasel farms that produce this coffee are unethical so I would suggest try this at one of the farms that use authentic wild weasel poo sourced from forests. A tad difficult to find but you know what they say- Where there is a will…
10. Balut – Duck foetus
I had been warned against eating this, I wish I had listened to the advice. The duck egg was bought by a farmer I was lunching with, in honour of a guest (me) over for lunch. I saw his little five year old daughter (in the picture above) going at it happily and thought to myself, how bad could it possibly be! So I dipped it in some lemon, salt and pepper and popped the whole thing at a go. Bad. Idea. It was half boiled, soupy, and I could feel the beak and parts of the foetus crunch in my mouth. It tasted like death!!!
So there you go, my top picks of the weird dishes I tried in Vietnam. Let me know in comments in case I might have missed something and I assure you I’ll make it my life’s mission to go back and try it! 🙂