ON A PREVIOUS POST ON THIS SITE I HAVE DISCUSSED THE MERITS OF DOG BURGERS AND CAT WINE IN THE CITY OF SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA. At the time of writing I had never personally eaten dog meat or guzzled cat wine, so I had only the third-hand account of others to go by, in the compilation of the report. Well, I still haven't drunk cat wine (or ingested any feline product, whatsoever), but tonight on the steamy streets of Ho Chi Minh City, I passed a major milestone: for the first time ever, I ate dog. And much to my surprise, dog tastes good. It kind of smelt a bit strong at the beginning, but once you were into the crunch, it tasted succulent and porky. To wash down the dog, I downed thimble after thimble of a vile brew called seahorse wine, which was to give me a magnificent hangover the following morn. I also tried my hand at eating one of those duck eggs you see in Viet with the baby ducks still in the shell (trung vit lon), but gave up after a while and spat a wholelot of cartlidge sh$t on the road.
According to the BBC: "Dog is a popular dish in the country, where it is eaten for its protein and also for good luck.
"It is particularly popular in the urban areas of the north where increasing incomes have sparked a search for new and more exotic recipes.
"At a busy restaurant in Hanoi, a woman weighs and chops up small puppies for her customers.
"There are about seven dishes featuring dog meat, and they often include the head, feet and internal organs.
"Dog meat has a strong smell and taste. It is heavily spiced and usually served with alcohol."
Have you ever eaten dog meat (or downed seahorse wine, for that matter?) How was it? If you are interested in having your experiences (or insults) published online on this blog, send me an email to email@example.com. One Japanese reader, Ken, had this experience to report: "I was in Man-Gui, a small tiny village nearby Sino-Russo-Line, to taste dog in hot-pot, which was ok, not special good, just fine. How did you eat? Teriyaki or Hot-dog???" Ken runs a hotel in Tokyo and if you want to stay there, click here.
Ben Thanh Market Stalls: 275 Le Thanh Ton St, District 1. Phone: 08 829 7292.
I copied this photo from Tan's photo album at Picassa Web -- I could be wrong but I believe the couple are demolishing bowls of bun thit nuong cho, which translates in my dictionary into "grilled dog meat noodles". Of course, I could be wrong -- there is obviously noodles in those there bowls, and cho does mean dog in Vietnamese. As you would expect, the specialities here included phở: specifically Hu Tieu Bo Vien, Hu Tieu Nam Vang and Cac Mon An Hoa Thuan Tuy. I ordered the Bo Vien meatball bowl which came with an array of leafy vegetables, garlic and chillies. I made the mistake of eating one too many of those chillies and got a right sting in the mouth for my troubles. But that is par for the course when dining in Asia! The remarkable thing about Dai Phat, however, was my great trouble in paying the bill there -- an experience which was soon to be repeated at various other Vietnamese restaurants and bars and cafes. It is almost as if the waiters and waitresses are programmed not to want to take your money. I put up my hand, I tried to wave the waiter over, all to no avail. I put on my backpack, stood up, but the waitstaff continued to ignore me. Eventually I decided that if I started walking for the door, that might shock the staff into action. As I crossed the room they barely noticed or acknowledged me, even though I hadn't paid for the wonderful meatball soup they had dished up for me. As I reached the door one of the waiters smiled and said: "Goodbye, sir." They didn't even know that I hadn't paid! I paused on the threshold, thinking: I could get away with not paying. I could scam this. But since the meal would only cost a dollar or two, why would you bother? So I did the right thing, and confessed: "I haven't paid yet." And the dumbfounded waiter replied: "Oh, what you ordered then?"
I had the same trouble convincing the waitstaff to take my money later that afternoon at the Highlands Cafe in the swish Saigon Center, and at some of the bars in Pham Ngu Lao district. That could be because it is (at least nominally) a communist country, so employed staff have no real grasp of service in a capitalist style venture like a restaurant or bar...
Phở 2000: Pham Ngu Lao, Dist.1.
I have been fortunate enough in my life to have dined at some of places loved by former US President Bill Clinton, and furthermore to have met people who were friends of his. In 2006 in Iceland I visited the famous Reykjavik hotdog stand where Clinton downed a couple of dogs with the works -- he is obviously a man of good taste!. About 12 years earlier, on a holiday in Spain with my Aussie buddies, we rolled up at this guy's joint in Valencia to smoke marijuana... only to find a picture of Bill Clinton on the wall. "He's my Mum's friend," the Spanish doper said proudly. Next week (early March 2007) I hope to visit another Clinton culinary hotspot -- Pho 2000 in Pham Ngu Lao, the backpacker district of Ho Chi Minh City. But perhaps I shouldn't bother -- and perhaps, neither should you. As Saigon Nezumi has warned us all: "I have lived in Vietnam for two and a half years but I have never eaten at the Pho 2000 where Bill Clinton ate when he visited Vietnam for the first time. This location, in District 1 near the backpacker area, was quite crowded. The food there was so so. Pho 24 is actually a much better restaurant."
Phở 5 Sao: Various locations. The picture alongsides was taken in Cholon, the Chinese heart of Ho Chi Minh City.
Asia Life's Jon Dillingham does a pretty mean guide to the noodle shops of Ho Chi Minh, and regarding this particular chain he says: "Pho 5 Sao (224, Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, D3, Tel: 930 1713) has a similar layout and design to Pho 24 but has expanded the menu to include 150 Italian dishes alongside dozens of other Vietnamese, pan-Asian and western foods. Open 24 hours they are known for their gigantic pho xe lua that includes rare beef, well-done brisket, well-done flank, tendon and tripe, all for VND39,000. Its 3 locations serve regular pho between VND20,000 and VND25,000 a bowl and they even deliver."
Phở Ha: Stall 1004, Ben Thanh Market, Dist.1.
Another recommendation from the godlike Noodlepie, this is one of three or four pho stalls in Ben Thanh Market. Said Noodlepie during one of his visits there: "I ordered the Pho Tai (Raw Beef noodle soup), the beansprouts were pre-thrown in for me, and a 2 leaf herb plate (Basil & Cilantro) was plonked stallside together with a dish of lemon slices and chili slivers. Ha's broth has Hanoian aspirations, but lacks those all important meat thick juices. However, Ha also gives you a nifty little sauce - a ready mixed oyster sauce and chili sauce number - and her soup needs it. Sauce added, your intestines can kick back, relax and enjoy. Without it this is second rate soup - great if you knocked it up yourself at home, but not what you expect from a professional purveyor on Vietnam's finest.
"This retails for 10,000VD. There's a decent market life view from Ha's stall and Banh cuon, Cha gio and Mi Quang are all within arms reach at neighbouring stalls, and can be ordered to your seat as required."
Phở Hoa: 260C Pasteur Street, Dist.1.
According to Saigon legend Noodlepie, this "is possibly the largest and most popular pho restaurant in Saigon. Probably the most popular in Vietnam, at least with southerners. Locals slurp in this two-storey institution alongside busloads of Asian package tourists, backpackers and expats. Downstairs tacky paintings of the family adorn one wall, a bonkers-big photo of a bamboo forest is pasted along the length of another wall. This place is always busy and cleaner and more expensive than yer average pho joint. Beware of the team of beggars, shoeshiners and sellers who stalk the front of this restaurant. Better to get a seat away from the front, out back, or upstairs if you want peaceful dining."
Take it from Noodlepie -- he knows his pho, he is the go.
Ut Nhung: 109/7 Nguyen Thien Thuat Street, Dist.3.
Jon Dillingham from the What's On Guide to Ho Chi Minh City claims this is one of the best phở shacks in the city: "This tiny pho shack doesn't have a menu," he writes. "The little hole-in-the-wall doesn't even have tra da, drinks are supplied by neighboring vendors. All Ut Nhung does is make one kind of pho: pho bo tai nam (pho with rare beef and well-done beef flank). They serve one of the best versions of this dish in town for VND11,000.
In a hem off Guitar Street where Districts 1, 3, 5 and 10 meet, Ut Nhung has no sign. Just look for the tiny house with a huge cauldron of broth tended to by a bald lady surrounded by hungry pho eaters.
"The broth here is extra fatty and marrow is served in your soup. The raw meat is healthy and red before thrown into your bowl. The taste of the rare beef is likely to be some of the freshest you'll ever have in a city.
"Pho in Vietnam is a lot like burgers and fries in America or fish and chips in the UK: hundreds of places do it well, but special places like Ut Nhung make it nearly perfect.
"Pho comparable to that sold by Ut Nhung is found at Pho Dau (288/M1 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, D3, Tel: 846 5866), where they dish up leaner meat and lighter soup. Not quite as hearty as the Nguyen Thien Thuat shack, the soup is still a very tasty, sweet and sour broth. The pho is served with parsley garnish, but no other additions are on the table. Itfs just beef noodle soup, straight. And it's good.
"Pho Dau has possibly the best pho location in town amidst some alleys where four hems meet and open up into a charming little square in the center of a city block. But the nice neighborhood has its price at VND24,000 to VND30,000 a bowl. The shop serves a selection of five pho bo choices: Tai (rare flank), nam (well-done flank), chin (well-done brisket), gau (beef fat) and gan (tendon)."
For the complete Jon Dillingham guide to the best phở shacks in Saigon and Ho Chi Minh City, click here.