Snakes on a Plate

Trip Start Aug 04, 2009
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Flag of Vietnam  , Ha Nội,
Sunday, January 31, 2010

After a cool drink at Highlands Coffee and much discussion of things to do we had two things on the table – shoot pool or take in The Citadel (former residence of Vietnamese monarchs). Then from out of nowhere I receive a text from one of the teachers at our school, Azrael. He has a friend in town from his hometown of Los Angeles and they want to know if we were interested in going to the …Snake Village.



Anyone who knows me very well knows I am frightened to death of snakes. Just reading the text made the hair on my arms stand up. My first reaction in our discussion now was a firm and resounding, NO! Why would I want to go to a place filled with snakes. Of course Jin's reaction was "yeah let’s try it". I asked Hang, my travel agent friend about it, and as she was telling us about it I was coming up with more excuses not to go then when I was in grade school and trying to get out of going to church on Sunday’s. “I’m feeling a little under the weather, I should go home and rest”, “It’s really far away”, “I really should go home to plan for school”, etc, etc. But I had said upfront that I was afraid of snakes so of course all my excuses were falling on deaf ears. After about 30 minutes I gave in because in the deep crevasses of my brain I was hearing my friend Cliff saying, “you gotta try everything”, which is usually my line, but snakes?  Jin’s reasoning was, once you eat snake you won’t be afraid of it anymore. I don’t know where that came from and I wasn’t really buying it but the biggest reasons I decided to go were, 1. I figured I’d never get the opportunity to go again and, 2. because the big draw according to Hang is that people go there to “eat” the beating heart of a cobra. That’s right, this isn’t an Indiana Jones movie I’m promoting here. There was no way in hell my “ya gotta try everything” attitude was going to get me to eat the beating heart but, I did want to see it happen. Azrael and his friend wanted to do it, so I said, ok I’ll go.

Hang had been there before with a group and she says all these villages are for tourists, Vn people don’t do these villages – not for silk or pottery or rattan, or silver or gold…or snakes. So she chose not to go.

Jin and I drove back to his apt and we got on one bike and made the long drive to the Snake Village of Le Mat. We really didn’t know where we were going but by asking several locals, we made it. Driving down the street was a bit harrowing for me because every sign had a snake on it and then when we stopped to consult the map I looked up and there was a huge aquarium full of snakes in a Chinese restaurant about 20 feet away. I started getting a bit anxious about my decision now and also found my self closely spying the ground more.  After all according to our map/guide books snake catching and breeding in Le Mat has been practiced for almost 900 years. So I figured the place would be crawling with snakes (pun intended).

After several phone conversations we caught up with Az, his gf (Hung) and John.  Hung had scouted out a floating restaurant for us and we made our way over the bridge to our seats. I of course was looking at the ground and in the trees for snakes. When I was in the silk village there was silk everywhere and the pottery village the same so why should I think this would be any different. They set up our table and within minutes of us sitting down (we chose floor seating) a young man showed up holding a squirming and coiling cobra by the tail. Needless to say my anxiety level went up a few notches. When he put it on the floor I immediately stood up and began looking for exits – yeah right, we’re on a floating restaurant.

The restaurant staff and Hung discussed the dinner possibilities and in the end we decided on a 9 course meal that included some part of snake in every dish.

Following the dinner discussion was the cobra heart ceremony. So this is how it went down: they brought two cobras out and surprisingly enough I actually got up close to take photos, they slice a gash into their underbelly, drain blood into 5 shot glasses then reach in and pluck out the heart and drop them into two shot glasses and then pour whiskey on top. They set the glasses on a tray and hold it in front of us to take the glasses. I am guessing since the whole process of cutting, plucking and dropping into a glass of blood and whiskey took about 45 seconds that would explain why the hearts are still pumping. I held a glass of blood and whiskey but that’s where I drew the line. When Az and John had downed the bloody beating cobra heart shot I handed my bloody shot to John, and Hung handed hers to Az and they chased their first shots with our shots. A few minutes later they showed up with 5 more shots. I eyeballed it, sniffed and felt pretty sure it was tequila and then did my shot. A few moments later I was informed that it also contained the cobra’s bile. I think it was at that moment my fear of snakes had lost some of its sting. Maybe Jin was right. Honestly I had a different attitude about it all. Granted I still have a fear but it just doesn’t seem as great.

Our nine course meal had every part of the snake included, as you will see in the photos. Some photos are a bit dark, for that I am sorry. But in nearly every photo you will recognize a snake part. I won’t say every course was good, interesting yes and in a few cases pretty tasty but I can honestly say, I’ve been there and ate that. The meal also included 2 bottles of snake wine, which tasted more like a strong liqueur. Nine courses including five shots of blood and in some cases beating hearts and 5 shots of cobra bile, plus dessert (watermelon) cost each of us about $40.  In my opinion, well worth the experience and I lost some of my fear of snakes, which is worth ten times that amount.

So now I say lets move on in the realm of possibilities for food. Hung told us there is no form of animal or insect that the Vn people won’t eat, so it appears the realm of possibilities are endless. It’s been my experience that it’s an “area of the world” based thing to eat foods that others wouldn’t consider.  I don’t think snake is all that weird but the beating heart…hmmm, I dunno about that.

Trust me to say that our dinner conversation was a little unusual as we all talked about weird things that we’ve eaten. I think to be a citizen of the world you have to be very open minded in many areas and especially in food – no Cliff, I still won’t eat dog. But who knows if the situation presents itself I might try a bite, but no more.

During dinner the next food horizon was discussed. Jin wants to try turtle (and mouse, there are villages in the mountainous areas that eat mice – no, not rats that would truly be disgusting ), Az is interested in turtle also, as well as John so tonight they are going to a nearby Chinese restaurant for that one. I’ve already had turtle so I passed on tonight’s feast. Although, I am interested in going to China this summer and trying out some of the insect delicacies I’ve read about. Who knows maybe I can talk the other guys into a National Geographic or Food Channel show where we travel around the world and dine on weird foods…I know there’s a show like that already but if I can just come up with a weird twist……yes Brenda, I know what you’re thinking, I’ve always been a bit twisted.

Have a great week my friends, and Bon Appetit!
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Comments

beebahoman
beebahoman on

Mark,
I'm a huge proponent of going outside one's comfort zone. I was very proud that you conquered your fear and got on that motorcycle and into traffic. Way to conquer!!
However, Eating snake...in that environment.. with people drinking the beating cobra heart shots and snake bile and tequila shots...I only have only one thing to say....BETTER THEE THAN ME!!!

jreis
jreis on

Oh gross.... I must say that I was gagging reading this blog... yuck.. and on top of that to pay $40.00. No way could you get me to eat or go I hate snakes.. just looking at the photos makes me feel ill. I don't know if I would feel comfortable in that environment drinking. If I knew I was going somewhere that stored poisonous snakes I surely would not want my senses dull. Give yourself a big pat on the back for going and eating the snake. You're the Man Mark scratch eating snake off of your bucket list. :))

mrcwoodsman on

Actually i have to put it in my bucket before i can take it out and think about it where in the US could you get a good bottle of snake wine for $40

rosemeyer on

I just can't go along with doing that to a living creature....even a snake. That's just cruel, and I don't care if it is a cultural thing. BIG ICK.

thegreatfoley on

Marky,
Possibly the most interesting post yet.

thegreatfoley on

My post got off. Man, that was some craziness,and while I cannot fathom, understand, or even justify that, being the animal lover that I am, I'd say that was going outside your comfort zone. But damn, did you have to kill the cobra? Seriously, man? You just awakened ten thousand ghosts of Krishna and those cats ain't happy. Dang, fool. I can hear you saying in your best Samuel L. Jackson voice, " Get those ________ snakes off my plate!"
Man, I loved the post of racing through on your bike. This one was your most interesting, but damn!!! Did you really have to kill the snake? I must say that I am a little disappointed, but hey, I have to be honest. You're still the bee's kness, youknowwhhutimsayngG? Just respect the animals,yo. And rats, hogwash. Rats are eaten there and don't let anyone tell you differently.
Dang... did the snake have to die? My hope is that you get one of these with this amazing amount of strength , who , jsu when you think he's dead, he jumps up from the table to plant a haymaker on the kisser of one of those sickos eating him. Now that would be rad.

thegreatfoley on

Seriously, a haymaker done by a kick-ass Cobra snake to one of those indulgent machismos would be hilarious.

By the way, I just watched Magificicent Seven again last night. Hell, I'd seen it before, but damn, if Yul Brynner is not the coolest hepcat in the film, hell I will say it, even more than Steve McQueen, I'll eat ten of those cobras myself and have room for a dessert of crickets. Word.

mrcwoodsman on

I never asked for the snake food - I was pushing for a nice bowl of Pho but I was voted down. I didn't ask for the snake to be killed either, so i feel that my karma is still intact, positively speaking. Its an all or nothing place, either everybody in the group eats snake or no one does - I lost 4 votes to one.

beebahoman
beebahoman on

In other words, you gave in to peer pressure. I'm still spitting up a little in my mouth just thinking about it!
Love,
Cuz

Thegreatfoley on

Marky,

Say nothing of karma. You just hissed it off.

kwai_chang
kwai_chang on

All that and no comment on how it tasted?! I was really waiting for the "it tasted a lot like chicken" comment! I have to confess that I've always wanted to try snake meat. MEAT! Not blood, bile, or bones. I have to hand it to you, dude, you have a lot of courage. Or something. I agree with the thing about being a citizen of the world, eating strange cultural foods, etc., but did you ever notice in the Temple of Doom movie that Indy's table is NOT eating the bugs and chilled monkey brains?!! Food for thought. Oh, by the way, I think PETA will be giving you guys a call. As will a couple of kung fu snake-style masters.

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