e x o t i c + m e a t s

YES, HO CHI MINH CITY IS ONE OF THE BEST PLACES IN THE WORLD TO LOOK FOR WHAT I LIKE TO CALL EXOTIC MEATS -- I AM TALKING OF COURSE ABOUT SUCH SUCCULENT FLESHTYPES AS DOG, CAT, RAT OR BAT. All of these animals are eaten in Vietnam and have their fans among all strata of society. Now I know a lot of folks out there find the consumption of exotic meats strange and obscene. Some people in the West (and also some people in the East) are passionately opposed to the eating of some animals, particularly dogs and cats. I don't want to get into any fights about this issue, it's not worth the aggravation. I just think that travelling should be about opening your mind, and if you want your mind opened, Ho Chi Minh City will split open wider and faster than any other city on Earth. It is good to challenge yourself and exercise your morals a little sometimes. You should take a leaf out of the book of this guy, fellow Aussie, who while travelling in Vietnam was game enough to try the local delicacies:

We visited Cholon, HCMC's bustling Chinese district, and after stopping at one of the many ornate pagodas and a lacquer ware factory, David decided to try a uniquely Vietnamese lunch at one of the area's dog meat restaurants (and if you're wondering, dog tastes somewhat like pork!)

On a more serious note, Ho Chi Minh City is also one of the world leaders in the cosumption of wildlife meat. The Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia (EEPSEA) wrote in 2003: "The total estimated volume of live and wildlife meat in and out of Vietnam is about 3,050 tonnes per year, of which about half was for domestic consumption. Trade in wildlife meat accounts for 80% of the total and this is concentrated in Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City. The total revenue and profit from illegal wildlife trade in Vietnam are estimated at USD 66.5 million and USD 21 million per year, respectively. In the study sites alone, the estimated total profit is eight times the expenditure on monitoring and enforcing. In the entire country, the estimated total profit is 31 times higher than such expenditures (USD 634,000 to USD 700,000); more than three times the total budget of Forest Protection Department staff (about USD 6.5 million), and four times the total fines collected (USD 5.5 million) per year. The estimated total revenue from illegal trade (USD 66.5 million) is 12 times the total revenue from legal wildlife trade (USD 5.2 million) per year. The study estimated that the average value of official confiscated live wildlife and wildlife meat from 1997 to 2002 accounted for only 3.1% of the total value of illegal wildlife trade per year.

"The main domestic sources of wildlife species in Vietnam are protected areas. The main international sources are Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar. Both sources travel along Road 1A to Ha Noi, and Ho Chi Minh City markets. From Ha Noi, wildlife species travel out to China through Mong Cai-Quang Ninh, and Lang Son...

"The most popular species are snake, turtle, bear, bird, pangolins, and monitor lizard."

Wildlife or partial wildlife meat restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City are mostly concentrated on Phan Viet Chanh Street. The estimated wildlife meat consumed in the city is about 465 kg valued at VND 116 million (USD 7,750) per day. The favored wildlife meats are those of forest deer, forest pig, pangolin, musk deer, palm civet, monitor lizard and muntjak. These are sourced from Laos, Plateau, Cambodia, the Central subsite and the Mekong River Delta. Although Ho Chi Minh City has 37% of the total number of restaurants in the South subsite, the total revenue and profit is about 79%. This is because of the larger scale and higher price in the area.

If you are game (no pun intended!), then here are some of the strange meats you can eat in Ho Chi Minh City, how to get there, and some of the alleged health benefits that these dishes provide: