What do you fancy for dinner, and where? A common enough question, in fact it’s one that we face every day. Fancy a burger? No. What about a pizza? No. Pasta? No, I fancy something a bit different. Alright then, we’ll have a snake smorgasbord and I know just the place…..Snake Village in Hanoi, Vietnam.
The first time I was in Vietnam, back in 2008, I heard about an ‘experience’ you could participate in whereby you drank snake blood, as the Vietnamese used to do it so now gullible tourists actually pay money to endure drinking snake’s blood. I didn’t get round to it while I was there so I decided that if I ever found myself in Vietnam again then I would make a point of ‘ticking it off the list’, so when, in 2010, I was travelling around Vietnam I found myself back in Hanoi where I had seen the experience I signed myself up on the first day there, with Hanoi Backpackers. The next issue was that they needed a minimum of 6 people to do it otherwise they cancelled, so I had the potentially difficult task of finding five other victims, I mean volunteers, to sign up and pay money to do something that most people would want to be paid to do. I used the usual tactics of suggesting the idea over a drink in the hostel bar and telling them that I had heard how great it was from other travellers that had been. This worked surprisingly well, it really is amazing how people will be convinced by ‘yea I know loads of people who have done it and they all said how good it was’. So, after a few hours in the bar I had made myself 5 new friends, 4 Swedish guys and a Dutchman, and we were all keen to get going. We were bundled in the back of a van with no English speaking guides and were driven to a location on the edge of town, ominously named snake village. We got out of the van and were greeted by a man laughing and carrying a snake in each hand, and were escorted past various cages filled with lots and lots of snakes. This may be a little late in the story to mention this but, like a lot of people, I’m not particularly comfortable around snakes! I think this dates back to when I was on holiday as a child with my family and I thought a very still snake in the grass was a stick so went to pick it up, and as my hand was just about to grab it the little snake wriggled away giving me the fright of my, up to that point, very short life.
We were seated on the floor, sitting cross-legged around a low table, and were finally greeted by an English speaking guide who explained exactly what the experience entailed – there would be two snakes between the 6 of us, meaning that two lucky people would have the opportunity to kill the snake while two even luckier people would get to bite the heart out of the snake and swallow it while it was still beating! There were nervous glances, apprehensive expressions and sideways looks of disbelief, while we waited for the guide to tell us that he was joking and that dinner would be served shortly – he was not joking, we had a few minutes to decide who would be doing the killing and who would be doing the biting. There was something that seemed very inhumane about biting a heart of a still living creature so I allowed two others to do it, but did volunteer to help with the killing, which turned out to be very easy as all that happened was my hand gripped a knife which was guided at the snakes body – easy, sort of. After the ‘deeds’ were done, they drained the blood into glasses, followed by the snake’s stomach bile into separate glasses and took the rest away to be made into dinner.
So here we were, with a round of shot glasses filled mostly with rice wine, but also containing a little blood and a second round containing rice wine and stomach bile. There was no point deliberating or wasting time, this was why we were here. This is what we had paid good money to do, so with a beer on hand to wash it down, we said cheers and it went down, one after the other. To be honest they tasted the same as a shot of pure rice wine, horrible, but it was knowing what was in there. Then it was time to eat.
Several courses were to follow – ground up snake bone with spices on a bed of rice crackers, snake spring rolls, snake meatballs and fried snake skin. If you were honest you probably wouldn’t order any of those in a restaurant but I have to say they were all really tasty. The snake skin was a little chewy but the rest were really good and barely a mouthful was left over – once you got over the initial thought that you were eating a snake that had been wriggling near you not long ago it was an enjoyable meal and one that I would definitely recommend to others to try. The meal was certainly an experience and afterwards I felt like I had exacted some small part of revenge on behalf of a much younger me who still recalled the scream when the stick in the grass turned out to be a snake!