Phagomania: Vietnam Wonders

While you lot recommended world grub for the Food Survey from the comfort of your homes, our resident Phagomaniac went to Vietnam in search of odd tastes and cooked pets. The horror, the horror, etc.

Feature by Lewis MacDonald | 26 Jan 2013

It's a new year, and time for a new you. You’ve Googled your way to a new cuisine that is going to get you there, one of the world’s healthiest – Vietnamese. Good choice. This month’s Phagomania takes a first hand approach, after yours truly recently spent a month with the Việt. Having sampled mountains of delicious splendour, we are going to look at precisely none of that stuff. This is Phagomania, and Vietnam is full of weirdness.

Why not arrive to a breakfast of Singaporean frog porridge? Too soon? Okay, we’ll let you off with some fresh spring rolls (but what was the grey meat in there?). But you have got to join us for rat for lunch. What do you mean you don’t eat rat, you like them or something?

Alrighty then, sautéed hamsters it is. Indeed. This is where I crack and lose all sense of professional journalism. I’ve let myself down and more importantly I’ve let you, valued reader, seriously down. I did not eat the sautéed hamster. But I did, just for you, order the snake curry. That garnish is not going to hide the fact that those pieces of snake look like last year’s anchovy, run over by a tractor. The texture varies between 'pretty awful' and 'not great'. It had that fishy chicken thing going on and must have been rich in iron because it tasted like sucking on a rusty pole. It is meant to do a million things to make your health wonderfully better. Well, the French guy across from me lapped up all of his snake, garlic and onion. Good for him, healthy lad.

But you want something that is actually tasty? Well it isn’t going to be pretty. Behold, the elephant ear fish, a rare treat from the Mekong Delta. This deep-fried monster parades in front of tourists on wooden holders, trouncing their eyes with its suspect appearance. But if something this ugly can taste great then Daphne & Celeste had better watch it. As is predominant in Vietnamese dishes it is best served wrapped in a rice paper roll with fresh herbs and a dipping sauce.

In Vietnam, expect to find yourself frequently lost in, and somewhat stranded by, translation. I mean, what is a ‘Spicy Spicy green Juice with Rhum’ in the first place? Well, look who’s an idiot now, as it turns out it is literally the perfect description for how it looked and tasted. Fresh from the fiery, leafy mouthfuls I search for some food accompaniment. And this is where I let you, trusted readers, down once more. The house special: steamed goat penis and testicles with medicinals. One can only imagine... for about a second. Although to be fair I’ve probably had it numerous times in the form of a kebab. Visuals are a powerful thing when it comes to food and often, as Vietnam proves, the correlation between sight and taste can be very different.