Anyone who knows me knows I love to eat and I love to explore new lands. Food and travel go hand in hand, and for this reason I have coined the term “gastronaut,” to describe myself and my penchant for trying anything edible at least once. I have sampled fried cockroaches in Thailand, pig parts in Brasil, brain curry in Sri Lanka, and durian fruit in Cambodia. I’m not as extreme as Andrew Zimmern from the Bizarre Foods show–no raw worms or live creepy crawlies for me–but I’m open and adventurous. Because you just never know if you’re going to like somehthing or not, right? So my motto is “Go ahead. Try it!”
With this is mind, I am sharing a video of my first and only time eating snake in Vietnam. I went to Vietnam In July 2007 to visit a Vietnamese American friend, who had moved back there, and I must say it was an eye-opening adventure in many ways. First of all, to see a country that was practically destroyed by the Americans during the war (which they incidentally call, “The American War”) doing well some 30 years later was a glorious sight. I didn’t know what to expect, to be quite honest, but Vietnam did not appear anything like the impoverished communist state I thought it would be. Sure there is poverty, but they also had everything from Kentucky Fried Chicken to Godiva Chocolates. We even indulged in the most decadent brunch at the Sofitel Hotel in Saigon, which I’m sure would rival Vegas’s Bellagio buffet. But the best food is found all around you on the street and it’s available practically 24 hours a day. Now I know why Bourdain loves Nam so much.
My friend Dinh took us to some of his favorite spots, like the place where they cook the rice in a clay pot and it caramelizes on the bottom, so the waiters must actually toss the pot back and forth before breaking it open to serve the delicious rice inside. Then when I heard about the snake restaurant, I had to go. Having eaten alligator before, I expected snake to have that same flavor–halfway between chicken and fish. But really, snake is snake. Or should I say cobra is cobra. The meat is delightful, but there is a special trick you have to do with your teeth–a sort of simultaneous scraping and sucking–to free it from the many tiny bones. We had snake in a salad, a soup and a dish with rice. We also had to observe the local pre-eating rituals as you will see in the video.
Let me conclude by saying that Vietnamese food is some of the best food in the world. I knew very little about it before visiting Vietnam, but now I’m a fiend for this cuisine. It’s so fresh, flavorful, and healthy, and the Vietnamese are some of the most resourceful people on the planet. During the war, when food was scarce, people had to eat anything. Even though snake is considered an expensive meal (at $30 for 3 people), the rats, bats, mice, turtles, frogs and insects that the Vietnamese eat to this day are probably a remnant of that era. Who knows? Food might be scarce for you one day. Are you prepared to eat anything? Are you prepared to eat a snake? I did. And it was good!