Known for its exotic dishes that use the freshest of ingredients, this culinary country has an underbelly for bizarre eats. For those adventurous enough to stimulate their senses, many Vietnamese eateries will prepare anything. Pack that Pepto, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Widely known to the locals as ca phe chon, it comes from the digested remains of coffee beans passed through weasel-like animals called civets. Civets are known to eat only the best and ripened coffee beans, and once passed, the beans are believed to have undergone a transformation that gives them a uniquely smooth flavour. As mouth watering as cat poop coffee sounds, it is highly sought after by coffee connoisseurs. But beware, they’re very hard to find and sellers claiming their authenticity should be questioned.
The Trung Nguyen coffee brand does offer their version of this called Legendee. Legendee is produced by an enzyme treatment process developed exclusively by the company that mimics the changes produced in the coffee beans by the civets.
Try it at Trung Nguyen Café, 603 Tran Hung Dao, Q1.
Duck Foetus Egg
This hard-boiled decadence has become a staple of Vietnamese delicacies. Made by saturating in brine, its taste is similar to a combination of hard-boiled egg and chicken. Despite its beak, bones and feathers, its texture is that of a hard-boiled egg, only chewier. Soft the whole way through. The best kind of trung vit lon to choose is that of a 17-day-old foetus. The beak and the bones are unrecognisable at that stage. Boil the egg for 30 minutes, crack it and eat while still warm. Dip in salt, pepper and lime juice to enhance the flavours.
This egg is available at every seafood street stall in town.
Reigning as one of the kings of posh bizarre eats, the scorpion’s fierce aesthetic appeal draws many to taste its power. While quite chewy with a fishy taste, its allure makes it taste all the better. Served grilled or boiled, most start with the tail. There is no need to worry about its poisonous back end, as cooks are trained in preparing the emperor of insects. Many people like eating them, especially while drinking alcohol. So the next time you try to get the courage up to relish in its glory, just remember how good a surf and turf goes down.
Huong Lua restaurant (located at the intersection of Truong Dinh and Ky Dong) offers up these black critters for your enjoyment.
This urbane fanfare could use some refinement. The small portion of meat that this crass meal provides, offers little sustenance. While its adult version tastes a lot like chicken, the crunching of the bones in its younger counterpart is less than appetising. While usually sold barbecued, you eat it like a piece of crunchy beef jerky. Gnawing around the bones would be most peoples’ first thought, but eating it in its entirety is how it’s done. These pre-flight avian can be found at obscure local food carts. Or if you happen to be in District 8 head to Pham The Hien and find them at food carts there. So, dig in and find the choicest bits.
Crickets and Silk Worms
These noble insects are sure to leave a bitter after taste. Historically, silk worms were eaten as a sign of nobility. Silk worms and cricket have always been held in high respect among many Asian countries stemming from the usefulness of each. The silk worm single handedly helped Asia connect to the western world. The cricket goes back to a sign of good luck. The consistency of the silk worm is much more pleasant to the average palate than the cricket. The crickets are generally dry and crispy. While the silk worm pops upon the initial bite, it then goes down smoothly. Usually served roasted or in candy-form, these nutritious bugs will keep you masticating your dignity away. They can also be found in pre-seasoned batches, ready to cook, in the refrigeration section of local supermarkets in Saigon.
Dog Meat or thit cho is a speciality in northern Vietnam, arisen from famines during the many years of war in the country. Its peculiar flavour is similar to rabbit, only a bit sweeter and fattier. In general, dog meat comes in three variations. The most popular styles are grilled over an open fire with ginger, spices and oil; boiled and served with mam tom (a shrimp paste with one of the foulest smells ever) or a bean paste and sour rice; or sausage-style made from intestines filled with dog meat and fat, la cuc tan, (a small green shrub), green beans and blood. Everything comes accompanied with bun (noodles), soup, bamboo, la mo (a green leafy vegetable), star fruit and xa (lemon grass). Anybody wishing to dine on a pooch should head to Cong Quynh also known as “dog alley”. With the prices of thit cho are higher than that of the standard farm animal, it’s considered a wealthier person’s meat.
These reptiles are believed to help cure asthma and pains. A bowl of gecko gruel is priced at between VND50,000 and VND80,000, as is a baked gecko. The two dishes are of such high demand that diners have to reserve them several days in advance. The gecko is best when barbecued extra crispy to mask the bones grinding through your teeth. The texture is both chewy and crunchy.
Hai, a gecko hunter from Kien Giang Province, says there were many geckos in the mountains of Kien Giang and An Giang. But they have been hunted so much that they have become rare now.
The rarity is good news for Huynh Ngoc Bich who breeds and sells geckos at VND20,000 to VND30,000 apiece. Ten years ago, Bich kept two gecko eggs just for fun. They hatched and he built a cage for them. In 2002, he invested more than VND200 million to breed thousands of geckos. He is now the main gecko supplier to restaurants in the province and nearby localities.
This squirming critter can be found at restaurants on the outskirts of town or in abundance near any lit up sign on the street. Dining on this wall ornament is the true definition of the “if you can catch it, you can eat it” concept.
Tiet canh, or ‘raw blood soup,’ is a common sight throughout Vietnam. Rich in protein, its flavour is slightly metallic and is designed to be consumed with beer. In the north, this pudding is eaten for breakfast, particularly by country people, as an alternative to pho. Tiet canh is made from raw blood, usually duck, and sprinkled with crushed peanuts.
There is also huyet (coagulated pig’s blood cubes) that are used in soup dishes like bun bo Hue and bun rieu. The blood is known to be high in protein and good for keeping your energy up during the day.
While tiet canh is mainly found only in the north, huyet is available in most Vietnamese restaurants and food stalls. Just ask for it.
Knowing that many people have the desire to eat cow testicles, there must be other things that I didn’t know about them. A key ingredient in cow testicles is the energy pumping taurine. While you may not want to replace your morning coffee with a pair of these bad boys, there is no stopping this famous dish among testes enthusiasts. All of whom when interviewed replied, “It makes you strong in bed.” While it may not give you wings, at least it will make you more physically capable of pleasing the opposite sex. Traditionally they are served in a broth and eaten like meatballs. The best recommendation is to savour in all the juices.