Sunday, September 20, 2009

Destination Vietnam #5: The Dog Meat Entry (Thịt Chó)

Just follow the signs or ask the taxi drivers. Where do you go when you want to find dog in Vietnam? Search out the words thịt chó, Vietnamese for dog meat. However, there is a superstition that eating dog in the first half of the lunar month is considered unlucky. So on those days, the restaurants might all be abandoned, or even closed. My friends certainly had their moral reservations, but I was more concerned about the sanitation of the meat than the origin. In fact, I was right. Either we faced cosmic punishment for eating man's best friend, or the dog restaurant was the dirtiest place we ate at the entire trip.


Having not grown up with any type of cuddly family pet, I didn't have any reservations about dog dining. If you've read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, you'd have a sense of the argument that eating meat in general makes you a "specist." Essentially, indulging in carnal pleasure makes you guilty of discriminating against certain species as "food." Despite my contentment with this label, I won't discriminate against dogs as another source of food. In fact, I feel better about eating dog than any one of the myriad of endangered species commonly degustated at high-end restaurants now. Eating an unsustainable species and further removing them from existence, or eating an animal that some cultures tend to raise as pets? What's the real moral dilemma? Judge me all you want, but I'm giving you the chance to eat vicariously through me if you can't stomach the animal.

Since I didn't go to Vietnam planning to eat dog, I hadn't done any prior research. I took a chance, jumped into a taxi and asked for thịt chó. I'm sure that the driver took me to his kickback restaurant for a slice of the receipt, but I had no other reference to go off. We ended up on the side of the highway at Anh Tú Béo, a lofted restaurant with dining seating on the top floor above the kitchen. We sat on mats on the ground around a low table and proceeded to order some lukewarm Vietnamese beer. As bad as Vietnamese beer is already, they don't serve it cold. Besides taking the drink order, the server proceeded to start bringing out side dishes. They probably figured that we would only come all the way out there just for one thing.

From the bill we received at the end of the meal, I can try to piece out the dishes we received. On the table are a few bottles of Bia Hà Nội, the better of the Vietnamese beers. The first things we received were a plate of cucumbers (dưa chuột) and a basket of lemongrass, lime and basil. We started suspiciously nibbling on a big sesame cracker (bánh đa), my friends worried that somehow the Vietnamese and baked a puppy into the cracker.

Thịt hấp - steamed dog meat

First to arrive were the dog cold cuts, similar to the cold cut appetizers I've had at Cantonese restaurants. Since this was the simplest dish, it would be most appropriate to explicate the taste of dog meat here. If you're looking for something mysterious or mystical, you'll be disappointed. Dog tastes like a cross between beef and pork. That's all. It didn't taste like game, exoticism, nor tears. It is exactly you'd imagine a boring meat to be. The dish also had slices of liver. And dog liver tastes just as offensive to me as pork or beef liver.

Dồi nướng - dog sausage

Tasted like overcooked sausage. Tough, overcooked sausage. Whatever the casing was made out of (I suspect dog intestine), it harden in the grilling process. Biting into it was actually somewhat crunchy. Tastewise, there was much more going on in the sausage than in the steamed dog. Seasonings were added, and other dog parts I'd rather not know about (likely dog blood and fat).

Chả nướng - grilled dog

The final dish we had was the most mysterious. Since we actually were heading to the Snake Village for a meal of snake (which failed to materialize), we cut the dog degustation after this plate. I can't tell how many more were going to come, but this was too much meat, dog or not. I want to say this was a dish of dog belly, with thick fatty pieces of skin on the small bits of meat. But I can't tell you much beyond that. I can't even identify the crumbled yellow stuff on top of the meat. As inscrutable as it was, this was my favorite of the three dishes.

Even in Vietnam, dog is a novelty. You should have no fears of accidentally ordering a dog dish by pointing at a menu. It just isn't that common, though dog restaurants occur more in the North than South. From what I could tell, all the dog I saw was only served in special dog restaurants. So unless you're intentionally searching it out, you won't find it easily. Each of the plates we had were 40K đong, about $2.20 at the time of my trip.



Food GPS said...

That's a hardcore post. I was in Hanoi in 2005, had a chance to eat at that row of dog restaurants on the outskirts of the city...and passed. I've always wondered what dog meat tasted like, or even looked like. Thanks for shedding some light on this forbidden food, but based on your write-up, I'm no closer to trying it.

Yoko said...

Nice entry, I enjoyed it a lot

mattatouille said...

dude, you have balls for posting about your dog meat dish. I'm hesitant to post about my (future) experience with dog meat when I go to Korea in a few weeks. I'm afraid PETA is going to send a special assassin after me. Also, I think there's a bigger stigma of Koreans eating dog meat than in other countries, which might be unfair. The thing is, Koreans are known for their love of dog meat, which separates it from other cultures I guess. Looks like this meal didn't satisfy you. My friends who've had dog meat in Korea say that it's a relevation, and this coming from people who enjoy food. I'll have to see for myself (though I'm still loath to post about it)

Aaron said...

Food GPS: It's just a novelty. I'd only try it because I haven't before. You're really not missing out.

Yoko: Good to hear.

Mattatouille: I wonder why PETA would have any more of a problem with dog than pigs, cows, or chicken. But then they are inherently irrational to begin with. I don't doubt that Korean dog is much better than Vietnamese.

glutster said...

I'm down :)

My dad used to tell me that when he was growing up homeless around Ciudad Juarez (border town to Mexico from Texas), this Taquero would give him 3 quarters for each dog he brought to him...hmm.

Anyways, thanks for posting the description, I can't wait to try it out myself, had Horse Sate (pretty tender actually with just the slightest end of gaminess) in Bali but don't think it compares.

mattatouille said...

Actually, I'm quite certain Korean dog will be better than Vietnamese dog because dog is a highly treasured delicacy in Korea. I'll let you know, though of course, I couldn't give you a true comparison. My friends who've had dog in Korea are unequivocal about its superb flavor. Then again, there's no accounting for taste, as they say.

gourmetpigs said...

Wow. I'm not sure if I'd be able to stomach dog meat. I guess I'm a "specist" after all even if I never grew up with dogs as pets. But based on your post it sounds pretty boring and probably not worth me risking nightmares to try it :p

Chicken said...

I also passed up the chance to eat dog and cat when I visited Vietnam in 2007. We all have our little hypocrisies, and this is definitely one I'll embrace and own up to.

As for dog meat in Korea, I'm less sanguine about. Reading "The Year of Eating Dangerously," I learned of some of the incredibly cruel practices used in butchering dog meat (like beating the dog to death while it's still alive to tenderize it, etc.). Now this might have only been in the past since I know they were supposed to put regulations in place.

I'm with Temple Grandin. I'm okay about eating meat, but I don't want the animal to suffer unduly to eat it.

And yeah, I've heard dog isn't that great anyway, so I'm okay with missing this particular delicacy.

Viagra versus Cialis said...

It can look good and everything, but I dont think I could eat it, at least if Im aware that it is dog meat.