Rats, frogs, dog or cat even bat – are all on the menu in Vietnam. It seems that anything goes in the old city of Saigon and through the Mekong delta. Don’t get me wrong – I really do enjoy trying the local cuisine when I travel but sampling female genitalia of any animal takes it a bit too far in my books.
So learn from us – I will start with the number one tip for experiencing Vietnamese food.
Tip One: Be careful who you befriend on the tour bus.
Note: ‘Tip One’ could be prefixed with ‘Tip Zero’ which would be to ‘make sure you get a good tour group’ but I am skipping that step.
When you set foot in a country where the menu looks like it has come from out of space, you can’t communicate with anyone who can help you and, you are hungry – befriending some locals who can speak the local lingo is a big plus. The other pros are; You don’t get ripped off with ‘tourist prices’, you learn insights which are lost in broken English by the tour guide and, if you are lucky, get the opportunity to try what they are trying: sample the ‘real’ food and delicacies of the region and take in the full foodie experience from someone who can at least – read the menu, which is more than what you can master.
No one ever tells you of the negatives. Negatives you say. Yes, Negatives.
Befriending the right locals is key. If your newly befriended local offers you a dish without disclosing the origin, animal or, proceeds to avoid the question all together – Be on high alert! Do not be fooled by the friendly smiles, encouragement to ‘just try’, and pressure to sample a ‘local delicacy’. Do not trust your ‘guesses’ at what it may or may not be. You will be wrong. Hence why now, we have tried marinated field mouse (also referred to as rat) and bbq’ed frogs legs.
Tip Two: Do not brag to your new local friends that when you travel, you like to have the ‘full local experience’.
Yes, we made this elementary mistake with our befriended locals who were also on vacation. Complaining to them about the segregation between Vietnamese and English speaking tourists on our tour (Tip Zero), we told them that we were fine, to just live like the locals.
This unsuspecting whinge, lead to an invitation to dine with them after the tour at a local restaurant for ‘fish’. Fish sounded great. Local caught fish in a stew we were told. Fresh local fish served up in a hot pot to share – what could be better? We had disclosure on the type food, comfort that it would be unique, delicious yet safe. Where did we go wrong?
The appetizers. The unsuspecting appetizers. Those little nibbles you order before the main event which are supposed to wet your appetite … Oh how could we be so fooled by these unsuspecting fried morsels.
I will not elaborate for you, the readers sake, but the point is – do not try the appetizers unless you have consulted your local friends as to what they are and you are convinced of their answer. Full stop. Shudder.
Tip Three: In Vietnam – Pho is a safe option – Always.
When in doubt just have a Pho. Be warned that the pronunciation of this simple word varies from place to place and where you were understood one time, you will not be the next. Pointing to the ‘soup’ to the person sitting at the adjacent table is a good idea or anything that looks okay on their plate is also a good idea. Sometime is not the best idea to ask what it is but if it is a noodle soup…then you are safe. Well, we were at least.
But in all honestly the food in Vietnam is amazing. They have mastered the sandwich (Bahn Mi) which we can vouch is the best sandwich you may ever have, the dry noodles and chicken salads in the South are exceptional, and not forgetting the spring rolls wrapped in herbs and salad which are freshly made and cooked on most street corners – we were really spoiled for choice in Vietnam.
So at the end of the day you may not find this guide very helpful. I am afraid I didn’t take note of the name of the restaurants where we were taken or specifically the Vietnamese name for ‘rat’ or ‘pig genitals’ so that you may order it yourselves but I do hope, that from reading this post, you may gain a further appreciation of the delicacies Vietnam has to offer – you just need to pick the right tour operator, pick the right local and don’t just stick to the Pho.
P.S Incase you were wondering – the fish we were promised was amazing!