Asia Food & Drink

Eating snake for dinner

As a self-proclaimed foodie, I feel its my duty to embrace local delicacies while I’m out and about travelling the globe. I like to think I’m open-minded, especially when it comes to trying traditional dishes. But let me tell you, Vietnam’s restaurants serving snake for dinner left me fascinated and horrified in equal measures.

Now before I put you off visiting Vietnam, I want to point out that you don’t have to eat snake while you’re there. Its not a substitute for meat, and you won’t be tricked into trying it. It’s regional too; we had to make a special effort to go to LeMat Snake Village. Located just outside Hanoi, this is where to find the cluster of restaurants famous for their snake dishes. When we got there, I was a bit tentative. I’m not particularly afraid of snakes, but neither did I relish having hundreds of them around me. At the entrance to the restaurant, I stood peering at them. Their eyes stared back at me through the wired cages. There was no glass between us and I wondered how many escaped.

We sat at a small table in an airy space, surrounded by bamboo and bonsai trees. Had it been a normal restaurant, I would have loved the setting. The menu advertised snake dishes in all its forms. Our server suggested drinking the blood and eating the still-beating heart harvested from a live snake “for health benefits”. I almost fainted. He must have seen the shock on our faces, because he quickly retreated and left us to browse the rest of the menu. When he returned, we ordered snake spring rolls and barbequed snake. He offered to let us choose the snake we wanted, but I couldn’t face condemning a particular snake to death, so we left it up to him.

Curiosity soon overcame every other emotion so we sauntered over to the kitchen to watch them prepare our food. They worked with skill; clearly efficient at making use of every part of the snake. We started to wander around the rest of the place; we were the only guests. Jars filled with all sorts of snakes lined the wall. Snake wine stood in bottles; some were red, having been ‘enhanced’ with snake blood. Skins stood soaking in large buckets while others hung dried and available for sale. Their unique colours and beautiful patterns gave me a twinge of regret at partaking in this tradition of eating snake.

When the food arrived, it looked appetising and just like anything else we might eat. The spring rolls were surprisingly good. I’m not really sure how to describe the taste; it’s not dissimilar to most other meat. The barbequed snake was a pain to eat. The taste was fine, the BBQ sauce they used drowned out any taste of snake that might have been there. I say might, because I barely found any meat. The bones were a disaster, and it wasn’t long before I gave up.

The price of our meal was not high. That said, we noticed that some snakes, especially a cobra, cost a lot more. The privilege of enjoying a live snake’s heart and blood normally sets people back upwards of $50, which in Vietnam is expensive. Having achieved our mission of trying something unique, we made for the exit and headed back to Hanoi. Still hungry.

Have you tried eating snake for dinner? Let us know what you thought of the experience by leaving a comment.

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