Bee larvae, squid beak, spicy satay-grilled chicken hearts, dog meat, silkworms and crocodile, with a serving of snake wine, anyone? The English translations of these morally contentious dishes are entertainment enough, but when you’re immersing yourself in a new and exciting culture you should open your mind – and your mouth. Katie Wilter shares five insane and (mostly) delicious dishes and beverages to try in Vietnam.
As you bite into the soft, warm bread, you experience the crunch of coleslaw and then discover pieces of skewed pork, sausage and traditional egg with a cushioning of pâté. Banh Mi may sound like a Vietnamese take on a stuffed French baguette, but it is unlike any sandwich you have tasted.
I unintentionally ordered a dish mixed with bee larvae at a local market when my request was misconstrued in a game of charades. I took a mouthful and quickly grabbed my napkin when I realised I was chewing something a bit too foreign for my palate. If you don’t overthink what you’re eating, various spices like shallots, ginger and chopped lime leaves can make hot bee larvae taste fragrant, soft and succulent.
Egg coffee should actually be on the dessert menu, as it’s sweet and smooth like custard. One cup will give you a firm caffeine and sugar kick, but this is balanced out with the historical Café Giang’s trademark snack of sunflower seeds. I noticed a group of Vietnamese businesswomen at the table next to us, who were surrounded by sunflower seed shells they’d discarded as they enjoyed cups of coffee and each other’s company.
Two weeks into my Vietnam adventure, I treated myself to a cleansing vegetarian meal at Hum. I don’t think it’s possible to replicate the unique and delicious flavours that turn simple sautéed king oyster mushrooms into a gastronomical phenomenon. The trio cake balls with assorted fillings of sesame, milk and taro are a sweet and savoury must.
I’m terrified of snakes, so decided not to mess with karma and digest any part of the supposedly medicinal snake wine – and for good reason. This liquor is produced by infusing whole snakes in rice wine or grain alcohol. It is believed that the venom combined with alcohol has medicinal qualities to heal conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, but the snakes often have parasites within their bodies, so if they’re not gutted and cleaned properly, drinking the wine can be lethal. One story goes that a snake that had been bottled for three months leapt out and bit a woman who was trying to refill the wine. Forget tequila-pickled scorpions in Mexico – snake wine is in a league of its own.
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