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 FORBIDDEN FLESHTYPES AS DOG, CAT, RAT OR BAT. All of these animals are eaten in Vietnam and have their addicts among all strata of society. Now I know a lot of folks out there find the eating of exotic meats strange and obscene. Many people in the West (and also some people in the East) are passionately opposed to the consumption 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 stretch your principles 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 previous post on this site I have sang the praises of dog burgers and cat wine in the city of Seoul, South Korea. At the time of writing I had never personally digested 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 some years ago on the steamy streets of Pham Ngu Lao, I passed a major milestone: for the first time ever, I ate dog. And much to my surprise, dog tasted good. It might have smelt a bit strong at first bite, 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 Vietnam 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."
On an even more exotic note, HCMC 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:
Thit cho: Dog meat.
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 thịt 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. Thịt, on the other hand, means "meat".
Thịt meo: Cat meat. Meo is cat in Vietnamese. It is a wonderfully onomatopoeic language!
Thịt ngua: Horse meat.
I am familiar with horse from my years in Japan.
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.
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.
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.