EXOTIC DISHES AND STRANGE FOOD IN VIETNAM: BUGS, DOG MEAT, DUCK BLOOD, CATS AND RATS

STRANGE FOODS IN VIETNAM

Among the ingredients for exotic dishes are dog, cat (little tiger), snake, bear, monkey, Java mouse, braised goat testicles, grilled wild boar, fried fox meat, bat and grilled porcupine. Dog is a favorite dish in some parts of Vietnam. There is whole area devoted to dog meat restaurants in Hanoi. Paddy rats are considered a delicacy because they only consume rice. Seafood and fish dishes are made with crayfish, crabs, soft-shell crabs, squid, baby octopuses, carp, catfish, bass, flounder, eels, dried jellyfish, preserved shark fins, seaweed, and sea cucumber.

There are—or used to be—restaurants in Vietnam that specialize in snake, bear, turtle, frogs, eels, pigeons and monkey. They are often consumed for their purported health benefits. In Vietnam you can also find blue and pink duck and hard boiled eggs made with an embryo of a chick a few days short of hatching.

In the 1920s Bréhion stated that the Annamese and the many forest tribes cook numerous insects as revenge for the damage they cause. In the 1940s Esaki reported that Cybister beetles and giant waterbugs are on sale in the markets of Hanoi. In 1975 Manocha mentioned that in Indo-China and Thailand, both adult and larval insects are considered delicious and are eaten by the wealthy and poor alike. [Source: www.food-insects.com >>]

Explaining in 1928 "why insects occupy an important place in the diet of the poor Tonkinese": Nguyen-Cong-Tieu wrote: "Everyone who has traveled throughout the Tonkinese countryside easily understands the difficulty that the farmers, especially those of the lower class, face in obtaining food of animal origin. The causes appear to be multiple. First of all, fish on the coast of Tonkin yield less fruitful results than in Annam or Cochinchine. Moreover, streams, lagoons and ponds are relatively devoid of fish. Thus, fresh fish, saltwater fish, shellfish and crustaceans offer no sufficient quantities to respond to the needs of an ever-growing population. On the other hand, because the surface dirt of the delta is almost entirely devoted to the growing of rice and other food plants, there remains little room available for the development of prairies destined for the raising of animals. Buffalo and beef, usually imported from the upper region, are exclusively reserved for field work. They are only killed for the butcher shop when they can no longer work, or on the occasion of a ritualistic festivity .Goats are rare. Many pigs are found, but the flesh of this animal, as well as fowl, constitutes the basis of meat in the diet of only the well-to-do classes." >>

Cat-eating is illegal in Vietnam, since a healthy cat population is officially deemed essential to control rice-eating rodents, but sporadic accounts of raids on cat-meat restaurants indicate that cat-eating continues--like most vices--at a usually inconspicuous level. [Source: Kim Bartlett, with analysis by Merritt Clifton, animalpeoplenews.org]

Water Bug Extract

The fragrant exudate from the gland of a species of giant water bug known as ca cuong is valued as a flavor by gourmet chefs in Southeast Asia, particularly Vietnam. Regarded as an aphrodisiac and more valuable than gold, it was kept in the old days as a source of wealth in times of war. The water bugs are usually caught in the spring, They can be cooked and mashed in a bowl and added to fish sauce.

Le Anh Tu Packard wrote in Natural History that her grandmother made delicious dishes with water bug exudate. "Just one drop of the essence extracted from the ca cunong’s scent gland...suffused the dish with an indescribable fragrance, enough for the entire family."

The water bug lives in ponds and flooded rice fields and eats small fish. The gland that is the source of the extract is found in both male and females but is up to 25 times larger in males. Scientists believe the water bug releases the fragrant chemicals as makers. Most water bugs have a similar gland that releases both smelly defense chemicals and pheromones used in finding a mate, but the fragrant chemical doesn’t seem to be either one of these. These days the water bugs are rare. They have been driven out of many areas by chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

According to food-insects.com: "Bréhion reports that the giant waterbug, the con-bo capunoc, is roasted and consumed in the nuoc-mam sauce, and in Saigon a pair fetches 2 fr. 50. The hemipteron, Belostoma indica Vitalis, the ca or dacuong of the Annamites is sought not only for its flesh but especially for a liquid that it secretes which is used as a seasoning for many dishes and is considered indispensable for some. Nguyen-Cong-Tieu describes in detail how the liquid-producing sacs are harvested. Belostoma is also eaten although it is not very fleshy.After the wings, legs and caudal appendages are removed, it is grilled over charcoal or steamed in a special pan (double boiler, the upper part of which has a bottom with a hole through which steam can pass).In either case, only the soft parts within the thorax are eaten. A third procedure involves chopping up the insect and sauteing it in fat, in which case the entire insect is eaten including the chitinous covering. Children collect Belostoma eggs from aquatic plants and eat them raw or grilled. The adult bugs are captured using special "fish baskets" and at lights. [Source: www.food-insects.com >>]

Snake Meat and Blood

Snake is eaten in some places in Vietnam. Snakes are often sold pickled in whiskey. Long, thin snake penises are prized as aphrodisiacs. Vietnamese men don't eat pythons because they believe it causes impotence.

Some restaurants kill the snake at your table. Drain some blood and mix it with wine and then stir fry the snake with vegetables. Snakes are often skinned and gutted alive and writhe in intense pain before they are re devoured. Describing drinking snake blood, Jerry Hopkins, author of Strange Food: Bush Meat, Bats and Butterflies told the Washington Post, "It was thick, warm and salty, and I admit I chased it down pretty quickly with a deep swallow of beer."

Describing a lunch of cobra at a restaurant outside Hanoi, Lucinda Franks wrote in the New York Times: "In the hands of the cook it reared up and flicked its fangs at us...Running his hands down its body he found the right place, and then slit the snake open and popped out the thumping heart...Ten courses of snake were out before us, from snakeskin egg rolls, to snake in chili and coriander; the meat was unexpectedly good like chewy chicken, but only Josh consumed the piece de resistance—a demitasse of blood and urine mixed with whiskey. Another delicacy remained uneaten, the reptile’s heart, placed on a china dish.

Unfortunately for farmers the flourishing trade in wild snake meat leaves rats free to rampage their crops. Huw Watkin wrote in South China Morning Post, "The Year of the Snake is looming, but in Vietnam it may as well be the year of the rat. The rodents are on the rampage because of the dwindling number of wild animals which prey on them - particularly snakes. The soaring rat population is forecast to cause devastating damage to crops and grain stores. This is mainly because of Vietnam's predilection for snake meat. [Source: Huw Watkin, South China Morning Post, January 23, 2001 >>>]

"The area estimated to have been ravaged by rats has nearly tripled, from 262,000 hectares in 1996 to more than 700,000 hectares in 1999, the Vietnam Investment Review reported. Business in the country's thousands of snake restaurants or trading posts, mainly in the north, is booming. Profits are rising because the per-kilogram cost of wild snakes has tripled in recent years, further encouraging hunting. The paper said the problem had become so serious that Hanoi was considering banning the flourishing snake-meat trade altogether. Dwindling numbers of cats and birds of prey also have led to the increase. This has prompted the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to ban the hunting or trading of 19 reptile, bird and carnivore species that prey on rats. The move has helped to strengthen Decree 359 from 1997, which banned the traffic, trade and slaughter of wild animals, including snakes. >>>

"But with poor enforcement, the decree had little effect on places like Le Mat, the snake village across the Red River from Hanoi. Seventy percent of Le Mat's 1,000 households are engaged in the snake trade. They easily bypass restrictions by arguing that their snakes are bred at home. Officials say that most of the creatures are captured in the wild, fed at home and then sold to restaurants. Each year, thousands of snakes are also smuggled from Vietnam into China to be used in the huge business of traditional medicine. Vietnam is home to about 140 snake species, 32 of which are poisonous. About 30,000 people are bitten by snakes every year in Vietnam, many of them fatally, according to official media reports. >>>

Dogs as Food in Vietnam

Dog is eaten in Vietnam as well as China, Korea, Philippines, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos and other countries. In Vietnam, dog meat is particularly prized in part because it is said to contain more protein than other meats. Eating specifically farmed breeds is believed to bring health benefits and is seen as auspicious. Vietnamese believe that whenever you have a string of bad luck you should eat dog meat to change your fate. It is said the winter time is the best time to eat it. Dog meat in Hanoi can sell for as much as $10 per kilogram— two to three times as much as pork. Joel Brinkley wrote: “Driving down the highway it’s not unusual to see a flatbed truck hauling dogs curled up in little stacked cages, six cages high, eight deep, off to market — similar to the way chickens are transported to slaughterhouses in the west.”

In Vietnam dog meat is prepared by roasting it with plum sauce or boiling it with ginger. The water is usually already boiling when the dogs are slaughtered. At diner at one dog meat restaurant told Al-Jazeera, "We eat dog meat at the end of the month, or when we have bad luck, and because it's tasty," said one of the diners. Despite all this, dogs are still loved as pets. A common strategy used ensure the safety of pets is to buy a small, skinny dog.

Hanoi is famous for it dog meat restaurants. Dogs are often delivered to restaurants on the backs of motorcycles. Demand is often so great that truckloads of cages dogs are brought in from the countryside. There are a number of dog meat shops and restaurant on Red River. Many are mom-and-pop operations with names incorporating thit cho (dog meat in Vietnamese). Many of the restaurants looks like butcher shops since the dog is chopped up and prepared on the ground floor while the eating area is upstairs.

AFP reported: "Dog eating has come under fire in places like South Korea, but the practice has gone unchallenged in Vietnam. The communist country has no animal welfare organizations and no laws to protect animals from cruelty, and the practice enjoys runaway popularity in the country's north including the capital Hanoi, where streets in some neighbourhoods are lined with dogmeat restaurants. In Vietnam, Al-Jazeera reported, many feel it is hypocritical to accept the slaughter of chickens and cows for food, but draw the line at mutts. "Culturally, politically, there is no answer for stopping dog meat now," Tuan Bendixsen of the Animals Asia Foundation in Hanoi said."In the 1940s and '50s, during times of famine, people ate dogs to survive. People believe that dogs are rich in protein, and people like the taste."

Typically, Vietnamese "eat dog meat at the end of the lunar month to get rid of bad luck. That’s what business people often do", said 30-year-old Giang, a specialist dog meat chef. As he prepared a plate of canine meat in the kitchen of his busy restaurant, Giang told AFP that his small establishment served up to seven dogs a day at that time of the month – and business is reliably solid. Dog is served in a range of ways – from boiled to barbecued – often with shrimp sauce, rice noodles and fresh herbs, he said. [Source: AFP, August 1, 2012]

Eating Dog Meat in Hanoi

According to a blogger on sixthseal.com, "Eating dog meat is popular amongst certain demographics in Hanoi, Vietnam. My guide is a motorbike driver you’ll find loitering around in the Old Quarter. I negotiated a return trip for VND 5,000 + 1 Beer Hanoi and I get to choose the thit cho place. I chose the one that had the most locals upstairs – a rowdy bunch that kept on chanting something before drinking their vodka. [Source: sixthseal.com, September 15, 2010 \~/]

"I choose a platter of mixed dog cuts to experience the texture and taste of man’s best friend – it’s served with a dipping sauce which tastes like fermented shrimp paste (cincalok) and turns into a vivid shade of purple when my guide mixed it. The portly woman who owns the place did not appear to be very friendly but after one of her staff passed me a piece of dog meat and I ate it before giving her the thumbs up sign, she warmed up to me considerably and led me upstairs. The price for dog meat should range around VND 20,000 to VND 30,000 per 100 grams. \~/

"You take off your shoes and sit on the floor with a piece of newspaper being the communal dining place in lieu of a proper table. It’s customary to drink vodka with dog meat but I didn’t want to get fucking sloshed and then lose my way in a dodgy part of town so I went with the ubiquitous Bia Hanoi instead. \~/

"Most people choose a selection of mixed cuts. This is an interesting dish as it comes with pure cuts from the dog (without further cooking) and a mix of dog sausage (which gives a totally new meaning to the word "hot dog" smirk). There is also dog stew available – it tastes pretty good but after a while it got a bit cloying due to the amount of oil they use in cooking. \~/

"Deep fried dog! Not too bad, but I prefer pure cuts. The entire meal (inclusive of beer) only costs VND 180,000 (RM 28) – a fucking bargain if you ask me. I bet most of you is going to ask me this – what does dog meat taste like? Well, dog meat tastes like dog. I’ve had dog meat in Korea but the dog meat in Hanoi tastes better since it’s not infused with a multitude of flavors. I particularly liked the pure cuts of dog – some parts like the thigh is nigh impossible to eat due to the huge bones and the tough skin and fat, but some cuts are easy enough to chew though. \~/

"Dog meat has a very interesting taste to it. It is very odoriferous so people who don’t like mutton probably should stay away from it. You can literally taste/smell the dog as you chew it. There’s also a layer of fat between the skin and meat that imparts a very vivid flavor to the dog meat. I love the taste – it’s like a cross between castrated pork and mutton. The meat is tough and the skin is chewy but it’s an experience unlike any other. \~/

Vietnamese Boy Sold to Restaurant as Dog Meat and Police Rescue 800

In November 2003, Reuters reported: "Vietnamese drug addicts kidnapped a mute teenager, bundled him in a sack and sold him to a dog-meat eatery as a stray canine, state media said on Saturday. The Gia Dinh Xa Hoi (Family and Society) newspaper said the two addicts grabbed the homeless 13-year-old from a busy market in Halong city. Halong, around 150km (90 miles) from the capital, Hanoi. The kidnappers tied up the boy sack and sold him to the restaurant for 300,000 dong ($19), the newspaper said. The restaurateur, shocked to find the boy, fed him and released him. Police were investigating the case but had made no arrests, said the newspaper. Population, Family and Children Committee. [Source: Reuters, November 23, 2003]

Early the same month Thai police rescued more than 800 dogs from smugglers who were taking the animals to Vietnam to sell for meat. AFP reported: "More than 800 dogs destined to be smuggled to Vietnam where they would be butchered and eaten, have been rescued in a police raid on a farm in northeastern Thailand, officials said today. Authorities acting on a tip-off found the dogs crammed into small metal cages on a farm in Nakhon Phanom, department of livestock development official Apai Suthisung said. "The dogs were caught all over north-eastern provinces and were to be traded in exchange for consumer products like plastic tubs," he told AFP. [Source: Agence France Presse, November 04, 2003]

Six people were arrested in the raid and charged with smuggling animals out of the country, which carries a maximum two-year jail term and a fine of 40,000 baht (about $1,000). Licensed dog breeders can sell the creatures, but smuggling them across Thai borders is illegal, Apai said. The dogs, many of which appeared well-groomed and in healthy condition, were to be ferried across the Mekong river to Laos before their journey to Vietnam where they would be sold for 300 to 400 baht ($8 to $10) each.

Dog Meat Consumption Analysis Based on Statistics from the Tet Holiday

Animal People reported: “The only statistics ANIMAL PEOPLE found pertaining to dog and cat eating in Vietnam were from news accounts of individual restaurant sales in Hanoi during Tet, a seven-day holiday during which dog consumption peaks. There was also a mention that dogs are usually eaten only during the second half of each lunar month, and even then at a relatively low level compared to Tet. [Source: Kim Bartlett, with analysis by Merritt Clifton, animalpeoplenews.org]

Some analysis can be done from this data, crude as it is. If 300 dog meat restaurants in Hanoi sell 120 dogs per day during Tet, as the news coverage indicates, Hanoi consumption during Tet would be 252,000. If the Hanoi restaurants sell five dogs per day during the second half of each lunar month the rest of the year, total annual Hanoi restaurant consumption of dogs would be 503,250.

If home consumption of dogs is as high, about a million dogs might be eaten in Hanoi per year. Hanoi has about four million people, Saigon has 4.6 million, and Haiphong, the third largest city in Vietnam, has 1.7 million. If dogs are eaten at the same rate in Saigon, where dog-eating was not prominent during the Vietnam War, and in Haiphong, total urban consumption would be about 2.6 million a year. Vietnam has 81 million human residents, but the rural majority probably cannot afford to eat dogs as often as city dwellers. Among the many Vietnamese ethnic groups, only the Montegnard were well-known for dog-eating during the war years.

This may not mean anything currently relevant, however, since the U.S. military presence in Vietnam ended 28 years ago. If all of Vietnam eats dogs at the projected Hanoi rate, total consumption would be 20 million per year. More likely, since Hanoi is the center of government and fairly affluent by Vietnamese standards, without the westernization that occurred in Saigon, Hanoi may account for from half to a third of all the dog-eating in the country. Projecting all urban dog-eating at the Hanoi level and rural dog-eating at 10 percent as high produces an estimate of total consumption at four to five million dogs per year. That might be credible--although the actual balance of consumption by region may be quite different.

Thailand-Vietnam Dog Meat Business

Maher Sattar and Sarah Reed of Al-Jazeera wrote, "Tha Rae, a small town whose name means "butcher village", is located in the northeast Thai province of Sakhon Nakhon and it's a hub for the region's multi-million dollar illegal dog trafficking industry. About 150 kilometers of Laos separates the province from central Vietnam, from where the animals make their way up to Hanoi to fetch as much as $10 per kilogram of dog meat - two to three times as much as pork. Dog meat is illegal in Thailand. It is not illegal in Vietnam, but the importation of dogs for consumption from abroad is. Defying the law, at least 10,000 - and by some estimates as many as 30,000 - dogs are smuggled from Thailand through Laos to Vietnam each month to feed a popular industry, said an activist with Soi Dog Foundation. [Source: Maher Sattar and Sarah Reed, Al-Jazeera, April 2, 2013 ><]

"A Soi Dog Foundation activist says the traffickers make $10-$30 per dog in Thailand, an amount that rises above $250 in Vietnam - good money in one of the poorest parts of the region, especially considering they get most of the animals for free by corralling strays from the streets. Mongrels are packed into wire cages and stacked on top of each other in the back of pickup trucks - 10-15 per cage, 70-100 per truck, crammed as tightly as possible with limbs sticking out for a 2-3 day journey with no food or water. Several die from dehydration or suffocation in the course of the trip, activists say. ><

As witnessed by blogger Austin Bush, before a recent crackdown in Thailand up to 1,000 dogs would be shoveled into a large truck, flooding the road with the dank stench of "fur and excrement coupled with the endless sound of howling and fighting". "There is a belief that causing pain increases adrenaline which tenderises the meat. So you have dogs that have their legs broken right before they're killed, dogs that are boiled alive, dogs are killed in front of other dogs." ><

John Dalley, Soi Dog Foundation founder, said that from the moment they're seized until they're killed, the way the animals are treated is brutal. "They'll be force-fed with pipes shoved down their throats, since they are sold by bodyweight," says Dalley. "Dogs will be burnt with blowtorches to get rid of their hair. There is a belief that causing pain increases adrenaline which tenderises the meat. So you have dogs that have their legs broken right before they're killed, dogs that are boiled alive, dogs are killed in front of other dogs." ><

Dog Thieves in Vietnam

AFP reported: Growing ranks of thieves go from small town to small town in rural areas of Vietnam stealing pets to sell to dog meat restaurants. Although the value of the thefts – dog meat fetches around six dollars per kilo – is too low to concern the Vietnamese police, the loss of a treasured pet to the cooking pot means emotions run high. [Source: AFP, August 1, 2012 |:|]

Dog-theft related mob violence has spiralled over the last few years. In June, a man was beaten to death after hundreds of villagers caught him red-handed trying to steal a family dog in Nghe An province, the VNExpress news site reported, triggering an outpouring of public support for the mob. "It’s not right to beat a man to death but anyone in this situation would do the same," one reader, who lost a pet to the bandits, wrote on the site. |:|

In the countryside, local mongrels are kept as pets or guard dogs. It is these, more nondescript, animals which are most vulnerable to the dog bandits. Most of the dogs served in Hoang Giang’s restaurant are local breeds raised specifically to be eaten – but as local dogs are also kept as pets in the countryside, it is hard to know which animals are stolen, and which are farmed. While exotic pet dogs are found only in cities, "in the countryside people will continue to see dogs as meat," he said. |:|

Dog Kidnapping in Hanoi

Maher Sattar and Sarah Reed of Al-Jazeera wrote,"In Hanoi's Cau Giay district, Dan Thi Ngan cuts slivers of meat with a large butcher's knife. Even without understanding the sign labeled "Thit cho" above her shop, it is easy to ascertain what dish she sells. The storefront displays the grilled torsos of several medium-sized dogs. Ngan and her family have been running this stall for 10 years, and they share the road with four other dog-meat vendors. At the restaurant next door, a group of mostly men are having a late Saturday lunch: a plate of dog and a round of beers. [Source: Maher Sattar and Sarah Reed, Al-Jazeera, April 2, 2013 ><]

While there are towns in north and northeast Thailand that are fond of dog meat, it is demand from north Vietnam that drives much of the illicit trafficking."There's not enough supply to match demand in Vietnam, especially in the north," says Tuan Bendixsen of the Animals Asia Foundation in Hanoi. Over the past couple of years, however, even northeast Thailand's strays have not been enough, leading smugglers to increasingly look towards a new source - people's pets. ><

"It's very common to have dogs stolen in Hanoi, even if you let the dog go out on its own for just a few minutes," says Tuan. He describes the experience of his in-laws who live nearby. "One day they opened the front door, the dog went out and in 10 seconds it was gone." Tho, a lifetime Hanoi resident, lost her dog last September and suspects it was kidnapped for the dog-meat trade. "We were having our gate repaired at the time, and so he wandered outside. He liked to play with other dogs." Her family never saw their pet again. ><

Tuan says there have been situations where community members have formed groups to stop pet thieves when they hear that one is in the neighbourhood. "Thieves sometimes get beaten up or killed by the owners," he says. "We'd love to change people's minds about how to treat dogs, but in the near future we need to work on the health issue." The kidnapping phenomenon has spread to Thailand, with Dalley reporting that pets are now being stolen from the country's south.

Corruption and the Dog Meat Trade

Activists with the Soi Dog Foundation, a non-profit based in Thailand, run a network of undercover agents across Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam who try to intercept dog smugglers in a game of cross-border cat-and-mouse. Over one week on November 2012 they stopped two pickup trucks from crossing the border through a new route in Bueng Kan province. One had 117 mutts. "The other had 163 in the back of one pickup, which takes some believing," Soi Dog Foundation founder John Dalley told Al-Jazeera. "But we've got the pictures." [Source: Maher Sattar and Sarah Reed, Al-Jazeera, April 2, 2013 ><]

"They are smuggling pets because strays are becoming scarce, especially in Nakhon Phanom and Sakon Nakhon," says Phumphat Phacharasap, a former member of parliament and one of the few politicians to take on the powerful industry. "I've had my life threatened," he says. "There's definitely a lot of corruption involved. It is very influential as a lot of the smuggling happens in areas where people are poor. Authorities are often paid to keep quiet. Even the police are paid off." ><

Maher Sattar and Sarah Reed of Al-Jazeera wrote, "Local authorities also mostly don't care; from their perspective, the strays are a nuisance anyway. And in Vietnam, consumption of dog meat is a part of the culture. Nguyen Bao Sinh, a luxury kennel owner in Hanoi, told AFP, would be better if the state had a law banning the eating of dog meat. ,"However, we should not discriminate or look down upon those eating dog meat," adding that the key was to gradually convince the public to respect and love animals. [Source: AFP, August 1, 2012 and >< ]

Efforts to Combat the Dog Meat Trade

"Tuan says national governments aren't eager to take responsibility for the issue. An alliance of animal welfare organizations in the region is trying a different tack - getting the Thai, Laos, and Vietnamese governments to crack down on the trade for the dangers it poses to human health. They are pushing the countries to meet and develop a plan of action to address dog trafficking. According to Lola Webber of the Singapore-based Change for Animals Foundation, dog meat consumers are at high risk of contracting rabies and cholera, as well as trichinosis. From a sample of 76 dog brains collected from slaughterhouses in south and highland provinces of Vietnam, Webber says 16.4 percent were infected with rabies. ><

"Realistically we have to look at this," says Tuan. "We'd love to change people's minds about how to treat dogs, but in the near future we need to work on the health issue." Dalley agrees. "We've got pictures that no newspapers would publish because they are so grotesque," he says. "But the cruelty is not going to convince any government to do anything." ><

Joel Brinkley wrote in Tribune Media Services, “Thirty years ago, it was illegal to keep a pet dog. The government held the view that dog meat was a nutritional priority that couldn’t be ignored. That point of view still pertains, although the law was repealed years ago. But now, Vietnam is a rapidly prospering state; more than half the population was born after the Vietnam War (which they call the American war). Per capita income is about $3,400, which may not seem like a lot but is higher than in most neighboring states. And as the middle class grows, so does Western influence, picked up from television, movies, Facebook, Twitter and the rest. With that has come a new desire among some to keep pets. So now you do see an occasional dog here and there, lounging on the front porch of someone’s home, under the watchful eye of its owner. [Source: Joel Brinkley, Tribune Media Services, February 1, 2013. Brinkley is a professor of journalism at Stanford University and a former New York Times correspondent]

Dogs Avoid the Cooking Pot on the Vietnamese Island of Phu Quoc

AFP reported from Phu Loc Island: "Unlike the rest of Vietnam where eating dog is considered a delicacy, locals on this tropical island in the Gulf of Thailand hold their canine companions in high esteem. On the mainland, dogs are rarely seen wandering the streets or enjoying a short nap in the sun. Should they be foolish enough to do so, they are likely to end up in the cooking pot. Here, however, 45 kilometers (28 miles) off Vietnam’s southwestern coast and only 15 kilometers (nine miles) from Cambodia, there is an abundance of mutts, roaming the island’s streets and beaches at will. They can even be found in restaurants - but only rarely on the dinner table. [Source: Agence France Presse, September 22, 2004 +=+]

Whereas Hanoi has over 100 eateries specialising in freshly cooked dog, Phu Quoc only has two dog-meat restaurants, both of which cater predominantly to mainlanders who have settled on the island. "Most of our customers are immigrants to the island, not islanders. We also only serve meat from cross-bred dog, not the original wild dog of Phu Quoc," said a restaurant owner who requested anonymity. Phu Quoc’s indigenous mutts are famed for the intelligence and hunting and swimming skills, and as such have formed a close bond with islanders. +=+

"Phu Quoc dogs are very clever. They never bark at visitors if their master is around, but they become really wild if I am not here," said Trinh Viet Dung, who owns a local winery. "If I want to catch a chicken in the garden, I just point at it. The dog then catches it in just a few seconds and brings it unharmed to me," he added. With webbed feet and a two-centimeter wide strip of backcombed hair along their spines that spikes up when alarmed, the auburn-colored Phu Quoc dogs are the size of spaniels but more stockily built. Perfectly adapted for this 565-square-kilometre (226-square-mile) tropical island, their short, smooth body hair enables them to dry quickly. "My dogs often jump into the water to cool off when it’s hot," said Dung, who has 10 canines to keep him company and guard his family home. +=+

Eating Cats and Killing Rats in Vietnam

Cat are also a popular food dish in Vietnam’ They are often served at "Little Tiger" restaurants. As is true the eating of snake, which prey on rats and mice, the consumption of cats has helped to trigger a severe rat and mouse overpopulation problem. Answering the call to "Kill Rat, Grow Cat," Vietnamese have been smoking and flooding rats out of their holes and clubbing them and poisoning them. Tails from killed rates can be taken to local rat control centers for a 200 dong reward for each tail. One man who brought in a bag with 2,000 tails told the Los Angeles Times, "This is easy work. There are rats everywhere." The rats have also multiplied as a result of bumper rice crops. They eat large amounts of rice. In 1997, rats destroyed 925,000 acres of rice paddies in Vietnam.

In August 2011, Vietnam Pets blog reported: "2011 has started off as a good year for many… unless you are a cat! Unfortunately, because the cat is the zodiac celebrity of the year, many Vietnamese have increased their consumption of cats. Like eating dog meat, cat meat is considered a part of the country’s traditional cuisine. Groups of men (more so than women), seated on mats spend their evenings sharing plates of dog/cat meat and drinking alcohol since the meat is believed to raise libido. It is also said to bring luck and good fortune. Some restaurants in Hai Phong and Ha Long Bay even advertise cat meat hot pot as "little tiger", and cats in cages can be seen meowing away in their cramped and filthy cages. However, Vietnamese aren’t the only ones eating man’s best friend or furry feline, some visitors to the country also enjoy the novelty of tasting and saying, "I’ve eaten a dog!" or "I’ve just ate Garfield!" [Source: Vietnam Pets blog, August 3, 2011]

In Vietnam, cats and dogs are tortured and teased for a length of time before finally being killed. Whether a captured stray or a farmed dog/cat, many marketplace slaughter methods are deliberately designed to intensify and prolong the animal’s suffering. This is the result of a misguided belief that torturing an animal prior to death results in better tasting, adrenaline-rich meat. Killing methods include clubbing to death, throat-slitting, hanging by the neck and electrocution.

The good news is that recent Vietnamese opinion polls – where animal welfare is a relatively new concept – suggest that the consumption of dogs and cats is losing popularity, especially with the younger generation. Although the consumption of cats is on the rise this year, the big picture suggests that eating dogs and cats is slowly beginning to decline as Vietnam clamors to become an international country and aspires to rise to first-world standards.

Vietnamese Fondness for Eating Wild Animals

Joel Brinkley wrote in Tribune Media Services, “You don’t have to spend much time in Vietnam before you notice something unusual. You hear no birds singing, see no squirrels scrambling up trees or rats scurrying among the garbage. No dogs out for a walk. In fact, you see almost no wild or domesticated animals at all. Where’d they all go? You might be surprised to know: Most have been eaten. Animal trafficking explains the dearth of tigers, elephants and other big beasts. But what about birds and rats? Yes, people eat those too, like almost every animal that lives there. In Da Nang, I saw a street-side merchant with bowls full of dead rats for sale, their fur removed but otherwise intact, ready to cook.Last spring, Conservation International reported that several varieties of Vietnamese gibbon, part of the ape family, "are perilously close to extinction." All but a few of them already eaten. [Source: Joel Brinkley, Tribune Media Services, February 1, 2013. Brinkley is a professor of journalism at Stanford University and a former New York Times correspondent \=\]

“All of this raises an interesting question. Vietnamese have been meat eaters through the ages, while their Southeast Asian neighbors to the west — Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar — have largely left their wildlife alone. In each of these other countries you see flocks of birds that are absent in Vietnam along with numerous pet dogs and cats. There, people eat rice, primarily, and for many people in most of those countries their diet includes little more than that. \=\

“Vietnam has always been an aggressive country. It has fought 17 wars with China since winning independence more than 1,000 years ago and has invaded Cambodia numerous times, most recently in 1979. The nations to its west have largely been passive in recent centuries. Many anthropologists and historians attribute the difference to the state’s origins. Vietnam was born of China, while India heavily influenced the other countries. Well, certainly that played a part. But I would argue that because the Vietnamese have regularly eaten meat through the ages, adding significant protein to their diet, that also helps explain the state’s aggressive tendencies and the sharp contrast with its neighbors. \=\

Joel Brinkley wrote in Tribune Media Services, “You don’t have to spend much time in Vietnam before you notice something unusual. You hear no birds singing, see no squirrels scrambling up trees or rats scurrying among the garbage. No dogs out for a walk. In fact, you see almost no wild or domesticated animals at all. Where’d they all go? You might be surprised to know: Most have been eaten. Animal trafficking explains the dearth of tigers, elephants and other big beasts. But what about birds and rats? Yes, people eat those too, like almost every animal that lives there. In Da Nang, I saw a street-side merchant with bowls full of dead rats for sale, their fur removed but otherwise intact, ready to cook.Last spring, Conservation International reported that several varieties of Vietnamese gibbon, part of the ape family, "are perilously close to extinction." All but a few of them already eaten. [Source: Joel Brinkley, Tribune Media Services, February 1, 2013. Brinkley is a professor of journalism at Stanford University and a former New York Times correspondent \=\]

Duck Blood Pudding

Tiet canh is a traditional dish of blood and cooked meat in northern Vietnamese cuisine. The most popular is tie't canh vit made from raw duck blood and duck meat. To make it freshly drawn blood is collected in a bowl, and prevented from premature coagulation by mixing it with some fish sauce of certain proportions, usually three to five soup spoons of fish sauce for one liter of blood. Finely chopped meat such as cooked duck gizzards and duck meat are put in a shallow dish along with a sprinkling of crushed peanuts and chopped herbs such as Vietnamese coriander, mint. The blood and fish sauce mixture is then diluted with some watery broth left from cooking the meat and/or gizzards to promote blood coagulation, then quickly poured into the prepared meat dish. After the blood has set, the finished dish resembles a pizza. The finished dish can be kept cooled in the refrigerator, which allows the blood to maintain its coagulated state. If the dish is removed from the refrigerator and left to sit at room temperature for a while the blood will return to a liquid state. [Source: Wikipedia]

In October 2005, Reuters reported from Hanoi: "Vietnam, the country worst hit by bird flu, is considering banning the sale of raw blood pudding following the detection of two new outbreaks of the killer virus in poultry state media said. The state anti-bird flu committee discussed rules on poultry raising, slaughtering and trading, including a proposed ban on the sale of the traditional dish, made from the raw blood of ducks or geese, the Quan Doi Nhan Dan newspaper said. If approved, the rules would also ban the raising and trading of live poultry in urban areas, it said. [Source: Reuters, October 25, 2005]

Crickets: Popular Beer Snack in Vietnam

Reuters reported from Ho Chi Minh City: "Would you like your crickets deep fried and crispy? Peppered and presented in a neat circle on a bed of green leaves? Breeders of crickets say the insects have become "finger food for beer drinkers" in an age of increasing prosperity in Vietnam compared with the recent past when they might have been food for the hungry or for wartime soldiers surviving in the jungle. Businessman Le Thanh Tung raises hundreds of thousands of the flying insects in barrels and sells them to restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City, the Southeast Asian country's largest urban area, or to other breeders in neighboring provinces. "The taste is very particular, very special and it smells good and tastes delicious but it is very difficult to compare cricket to other meat," said Tung, 28, suggesting that crickets are an acquired taste. [Source: Reuters, September 26, 2006 *^*]

At his small farm and restaurant about 25 kilometers (16 miles) west of the city center, a plastic-covered menu with photographs of cricket dishes offers "young crickets deep fried," "cricket salad," "breaded cricket," "cricket noodle" and "peppered cricket." One customer rode 340 kilometers on a motorbike from his home near the border with Cambodia to buy two boxes full of twitching, chirping crickets to breed and serve at his restaurant. "There is a demand because people like to eat better," said the customer, Nguyen Chinh Anh. *^*

"Back in the hot kitchen of the farm's brick-faced building covered by a tin roof, Tung's sister-in-law, Huynh Thi Oanh Kieu, scoops up a colander of crickets from a plastic basin and gently releases them into boiling oil. They sizzle and smoke for five to 10 minutes and she pulls them out. Crunchy crickets are ready. Tung gives his guests six dishes of crickets of various sizes, shapes and colors nestled on long yellow noodles, or battered, or stood on their legs atop a dark-green salad. Vietnamese crickets usually grow to 2.5 cm (0.9 inch) long and the largest can grow up to 4 cm, according to Tung. "Tasty," said driver Nguyen Trong Thanh, after gingerly picking up a deep fried cricket with his chopsticks, dipping it in spicy fish sauce and then into his mouth. "This is the first time I've eaten it and I'm surprised it's that good." *^*

"Throughout the meal, crickets sing in the background. Tung says that after six years of catching and breeding the insects, he knows their character and moods. "When they are angry, the singing is high-pitched and when they are looking for a mate, it is like the sound of violins playing," he said. Like many Vietnamese of his generation, Tung remembers a childhood fascination with crickets, which they caught to watch them fight for entertainment. The insect has a special place in Vietnamese literature through a book called "The adventure of a cricket" by To Hoai. A picture book and a cartoon film were based on the story. *^*

"However, the cricket breeder said the real inspiration for his business came from watching a TV documentary about crickets as a culinary delicacy in Thailand and a European report that said eating insects reduced cholesterol.Crickets are harmless but Tung also breeds scorpions and venomous giant centipedes. They are two other insects considered delicacies at some restaurants in the nearby city of about 8 million that many still call by its old name, Saigon. *^*

"The story of Tung and his insects is also one of a young entrepreneur who said he had struggled to make a living breeding rabbits and other animals and growing vegetables. He also tried working on construction sites, a common occupation for men his age in Vietnam's rapidly developing cities, but hours were long and wages relatively low. In this country of 83 million with per capita annual income of just $640, Tung's cricket business changed his life as his earnings rose way above average. His business grosses an estimated 90 million dong ($5,625) a month, before paying salaries to 12 workers and other costs. Tung said buyers pay between 250,000 dong ($15) and 450,000 dong ($28) per kg of crickets and he can sell about 300 kg a month. By comparison, one kg of chicken costs 70,000 dong ($4). *^*

"There's a niche in the market, demand is potentially big," said Tung as he stood in his breeding shed surrounded by hundreds of blue, red and green plastic barrels. In the crowded, narrow streets of the Go Vap district of Ho Chi Minh City, a restaurant called "Cricket" serves the insects cooked in batter or in fish sauce.As beer- and rice wine-drinking customers walk in and out of the three-storey lime green building, manager Nguyen Hong Muong says that, while it caters mostly to locals, "tourists from Japan and Korea and even Russia have come here to eat crickets." *^*

According to food-insects.com: "Two crickets are edible and are eaten by the poor, but they "cater little to the gourmet's palate" (Nguyen-Cong-Tieu 1928).These are Brachytrupes portentosus Licht., known as gie-men, and the mole cricket, Gryllotalpa africana Beauv., the courtiliere or taupe-grillon or gie-co.Nguyen-Cong-Tieu notes that all of the Orthoptera mentioned are harmful to agriculture and should be destroyed so it is "happy coincidence" that the Tonkinese villagers can make use of them as food. According to Bréhion (1913), mole-crickets or con-de-com are freed of their wings and legs, cleansed, covered with an Arachis-nut and cooked in lard. This famous Annamese dish is served mainly in the wet season, from May to October, when these insects abound. [Source: www.food-insects.com >>]

Eating Ants, Bees and Silkworms in Vietnam

In 1928, Nguyen-Cong-Tieu discussed insects from six orders that are used by the Tonkinese, He noted that some of these insect foods, particularly grasshoppers, Belostoma and silkworm pupae, are objects of current commerce in the large cities as well as in the village markets. Formicidae (ants). Nguyen-Cong-Tieu wrote that "Eggs" [probably larvae/pupae actually] of certain large ants are eaten, cooked with gummy rice and that the larvae and pupae of several species of wasps are eaten.[Source: www.food-insects.com >>]

The silkworm, Bombyx mori, or con tam of the Annamites, is eaten in the pupal stage (Nguyen-Cong-Tieu 1928).Chemical analysis of pupae three days after transformation revealed 78.8 percent water, 13.0 percent nitrogenous matter, 2.8 percent fat, 1.1 percent minerals, 0.40 percent phosphorus expressed as P2O5, and 0.05 percent lime as CaO. When taken out of the cocoons, the pupae are sufficiently cooked to be eaten immediately. But, usually, they are eaten salted or sauteed in grease and flavored with leaves from the lemon tree.Finely ground, they are used to prepare good bouillons with leaves of cabbage phyllanthe and water "liseron."Sometimes they are dried in the sun after cooking, and, dried, they keep for a rather long time.They are sold in all of the markets of Tonkin, one kg (2500 pupae) costing about $.25. >>

Certain mountain people in the Upper Region eat many different species of cicadas, while in the Delta, the singing cicada, ve-sau, "is especially feasted upon."Completing its metamorphosis, it leaves the ground at night and is collected from tree trunks by lantern light. The young insect is tender, and, sauteed in fat, it is a dish often well-liked (Nguyen-Cong-Tieu 1928). The pupae of bees in the combs is a popular Annamese dish (Bréhion 1913).Larvae and pupae of Apis mellifera as well as those of several species of wild bees are eaten (Nguyen-Cong-Tieu 1928).Adult honeybees and ant "eggs" are reportedly eaten by the peasants of Tonkin and are made into an omelette by the Mois (Brygoo 1946, as cited by Bodenheimer, pp. 233, 267). >>

Eating Termites and Grasshoppers in Vietnam

Bréhion (1913), as summarized by Bodenheimer, states: Termite-queens, the con duong-cha-la, are also appreciated. No Annamite will destroy a termite hill close to his house. He will cover its top with a piece of red rag, and he regards it as the dwelling of an ancestor in retirement who has approached his house to answer his prayers. At the foot of the hill he will frequently burn incense sticks. Yet in Cambodia many termite hills are used as lime-kilns. The larva and the pupa of Pyralidae (snout and grass moths) are eaten either raw or cooked (Nguyen-Cong-Tieu 1928).It is a rare food, however, and considered a precious medicine in the Sino-Annamite pharmacopoeia.The larva lives in the terminal bud of the graminee, Thysanolaena maxima, which grows spontaneously throughout Southeast Asia. [Source: www.food-insects.com >>]

Among the grasshoppers, Oxya velox Fabr., known as the chau-chau or cao-cao, is abundant and the only species eaten in quantity (Nguyen-Cong-Tieu 1928). It is hunted from May to December, primarily during the day which is more productive than hunting at night .Children use a triangular-shaped swatter of woven bamboo to stun and collect the grasshoppers. The main hunting instrument, however, is a large screen-like bamboo basket, 120 cm long x 50 cm wide x 60 cm deep, that is passed through vegetation just above the ground. Grasshoppers that jump or fly into the basket are kept from escaping by the continuous sweeping motions of the hunter. The catch is emptied into a basket that has a drawstring and carried home. The grasshoppers are killed by immersing the basket in cold water for a few hours or in boiling water for a few minutes. The selling price varies according to season, locality and condition of the insects, but is generally about 2-3 sous per 200 g or $.15 per kg (about 2,000 insects).Gravid females sell for slightly more than others. >>

Analysis of freshly killed Oxya revealed 68.9 percent water, 8.3 percent nitrogenous matter, 1.0 percent fat, 1.2 percent mineral matter, 0.7 percent phosphorus expressed as P2O5, 0.005 percent lime as CaO, and a trace of carbohydrates. After removing the wings and sometimes the head, intestines and first two pairs of legs, the grasshoppers are cooked with saltwater or sauteed in pork fat.Allspice and leaves of the lemon tree are good condiments with these preparations."Served with rice, this food, although not being first rate, constitutes the favorite dish of the agricultural workers." >>

Nguyen-Cong-Tieu mentions that two species of Euconocephalus (a kind of long-horned grasshopper), one green (con muom-xanh), the other brown (con muom-nau), are eaten but are too rare to be of great importance.They are caught by hand:"The peasants often give them to the children, who grill them over the fire and eat them like snacks.When the hunters can gather a sufficient quantity, they cook them in water with cabbage leaves, after having dewinged and crushed them.In this way, an excellent broth is obtained." >>

Eating Beetles in Vietnam

The larva of the cerambycid (long-horned beetle), Apriona guermari Hope, the con sau dau of the Annamites, is found in mulberry tree trunks where its presence is betrayed by a deposit of excrement at the opening of its tunnel (Nguyen-Cong-Tieu 1928).It is pulled from its retreat by inserting a wire bent in the shape of a crochet hook, or, lacking wire, a thorny rattan leaf.It is collected more as medicine than as food and is given grilled to children to protect them from sickness. [Source: www.food-insects.com >>]

In Cochin China and in Annam, the palmworm, known as the con-duong-ch-la, is taken from the roots of a certain palm and introduced into the internodes of sugar-cane.Bréhion states, as summarized by Bodenheimer:"When sufficiently fattened it is inserted into the nuoc-mam, the national sauce of Annam, fried in pig fat and wrapped in paste.Roasted in butter or rolled in flour this larva is rather succulent and smells like hazel-nut.Europeans like this dish, while in Annam it is reserved for the royal table only.This palmworm is found only in the maritime districts of Cochin China and its price is always high." According to Nguyen-Cong-Tieu, the palmworm is rare in Tonkin and does not have the same reputation as in Cochinchine. >>

Water beetles, nieng-nieng bau, nieng-nieng kim, although rather uncommon are eaten grilled or sauteed in grease (Nguyen-Cong-Tieu 1928). Hoffmann (1947) states that the hydrophilid beetles, Hydrous bilineatus MacLeay and H. hastatus Herbst. are used as food in "Indo-China". The con-ray, a cockchafer collected by the Annamese in April, and which, after the intestines, elytra, wings, antennae and legs have been removed, is left overnight in the nuoc-mam sauce and fried the next day (Bréhion 1913). It is reported in Annamese annals that a king of Hue once sent with his triennial tribute to the Emperor in Peking some con-ray as a personal gift.The Emperor was so pleased that he asked for more. Bréhion states that other beetles eaten include the larva known as con-duong-dat which is collected in May from among the roots of a green plant at Travinh in Cochin China. Ephemerids (mayflies) are plentiful on certain rivers of Tonkin and, cooked with fat and salt, serve as food for fishermen (Nguyen-Cong-Tieu 1928). >>

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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