There are many parts of traveling that are not so much fun. One of them can be sitting in your hostel at 7:30am in the morning waiting for the room to be cleaned so that you can have a shower after an exceptionally long bus journey. But that is not to say that great ideals can not be had while horrifically sleep deprived. The other day we were lucky enough to be sat feeling sorry for ourselves in one such hostel, in Saigon. Laurie happened to be reading a lonely planet magazine on Asia, and inspiration struck. The magazine made mention of a place in which you could sample the weirdest and best of Asian cuisine while also getting to dust off your BBQ skills all at the same time. An opportunity not to be missed.
After a long day of tramping around Saigon in a reasonably decent amount of humidity and constantly in danger from the roads, that although less deadly than Hanoi seem slightly more indifferent to the plight of the panicked pedestrian. Buses present a singularly interesting predicament, if you wait for them in the middle of the road to pass you will certainly perish, but if you go in front of them to continue your journey you are instantly confronted with a stream of mopeds that you did not even realise could possible fit in the space between the bus and the pavement only 4 centimeters away. Needless to say, we had earnt a dinner, not just any dinner a special dinner.
We walked for what seemed towards the end more and more for what seemed like an age. But finally after walking down the longest single road in Saigon, or so it seemed to us, we arrived at our destination. On the way we had all began to worry that the varied delights we might be about to enjoy would be well past our meager budget and that the place would be an expensive tourist trap designed to snatch your hard earned Dong (teehee) away from you. We were in luck, it was no such place. It was more or less outdoors, a roughly converted large front garden, with many rows of tables and cheap plastic chairs. All the tables covered with checked table clothes and glasses that had more in common with tankards than they did any other form of container. Important for anyone about to imbibe an animal they have never seen or thought about eating before.
Two people bustled us to a table and presented us with a set of menus that more closely resembled the Encyclopedia Britannica than a polite menu. We were reassured to see that under the indecipherable words were English ones also, though what we saw was not as expected. We had come with the expectation of having either snake or crocodile, as this was what the magazine had led us to believe on offer among other delicacies. The menu…was even more magical than we could have hoped and we were totally spoiled for choice. One of the first things that leapt out at us was…steamed goats penis and testicles with Chinese medicinals, not only was this in the menu, so proud were they of this tempting meal it was on a large banner on the wall.
Thankfully, and sadly for us all. It was 300 Dong, a tad too rich for our blood by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, after a lot of debate and one large local beer, we settled on our selection for the evening.
1. Two deep fried Scorpions
2. One bowl of eel soup
3.Breast of goat
We were not being as brave as we could have been admittedly, there was the offer of shark, crocodile and many other interesting but ultimately scarey offerings. We were only four people and the mental preparation for scorpions alone, was more than a person can casually expect.
Finally, the wait was over. The owner or maybe head waiter, brought over our tiny BBQ fire and placed it on the end of the table. Along with two sauces each, one of which we were told was bile. And defiantly had the tang of sick about it, though surprisingly was not as offensive as you would think, it was actually quite nice. First was the goat, which was placed on the BBQ for us, being Westerns we were liable to set fire to ourselves and give ourselves food poisoning at any moment, so it was quite nice to be looked after. The meat was white, very thin, and delicious. Surprisingly spicy and so more beer had to be consumed. Next at the table were the scorpions, with stingers still attached.
I am not ashamed to say that we all had moments of utter, blind fear. It is one thing to eat a cricket, or a locust. But a scorpion is no small thing, and they are creepy looking. But after a certain amount of dithering and dismembering the poor things, as well as Dutch courage and eating goat to mentally prepare we each had our fill of half a scorpion. Overall, not bad, kind of meaty but considering the wait not the bee’s knees.
Next came the eel soup, which was truly lovely. More like chicken or pork than a fish and just a joy to eat. If slightly odd in concept. And then finally the favourite dish of the night, Ostrich. Looking at them, they are not the most graceful or sane looking birds, but they taste amazing. The meat was really dark and covered in soy, ginger and garlic. When it came to the odd amount of chunks at the end of the meal it was a bit of a tense time. But passed without incident.
After we had eaten till we were fit to burst, (everything bar a few bits of scorpion was consumed) and rather tiddled from all of the medicinal beer. Laurie, being the man and therefor leader of the group was presented with a prospect. One of the single most disgusting sights I could imagine. A short, fat, pulsating grub that apparently lives in the trees that grow coconuts. As so many things claim to be here in South East Asia, it is good for making a man strong. But after a very large meal, Laurie thankfully and sagely decided against consuming the red faced worm.
Full and pleased with ourselves we waddled back to district one, in search of more drinks to toast our victory over the animal kingdom.
The best 140 Dong I think I have ever spent.