Mmmmm, Roast Dog
I don’t think that I would like to see a dog slaughtered, nor any other animal. It would do nothing for my appetite.
However if one did want to eat dog, Vietnam or China would also be the place to go. I went to the open air market in Guangzhou. It’s about ten square blocks and if it’s edible (or not really) you can find it there. Refrigeration not being the uppermost in people’s minds, many animals are sold alive. They are kept in tiny cages made of twigs or branches.
Sometimes buyers bring their own cages. Can’t get fresher food than this, can you. There were so many animals that at first I thought I had come across a pet center. But then I noticed all the weasels, rodents, bats, the type of thing one normally would not keep as pets. All kinds of snakes and bugs. Hundreds of snakes, big and small. Bugs half the size of your fist with legs so long they were tied with long pieces of grass. Also about a million smaller bugs, some alive, some already cooked.
What I remember most is a large, whole smoked dog hanging upside down. It was my first trip to Asia and I was not ready to eat these things. Later I traveled to Hanoi. There were a number of restaurants just outside of town near Bay Mau Lake. The old wood buildings were on stilts like many of the homes here, and these had a bunch of dogs underneath.
How cute I thought. The owner kept his pets at work with him. I liked the idea and stopped in to eat one day. They only sold sausages and dried meat. I had some of both. The dried meat was tough and the sausages were past their prime so I didn’t eat much. It was only later that I learned I was eating some of those cute dogs and that’s what these restaurants specialized in.
I stayed in the old section of Hanoi and there was a small outdoor market down an alleyway right next door. There was a smoked dog hanging there. It was golden brown-like a roasted pig. It looked so good that I thought I would give it another try.
It was delicious- moist and tender. The skin tasted a bit like pork and the meat somewhat like beef.
I found out later that it’s relatively expensive in Hanoi. I paid a dollar for a bunch of cut up pieces wrapped in newspaper along with a tiny plastic bag of hot sauce. I brought the package back to my modest hotel and when the two boys that worked there saw what I had they went crazy, laughing and whooping, rolling on the floor.
When they got over their merriment- they had never heard of a foreigner eating dog before- they asked if they could eat some too. That’s when they told me it cost so much it was out of their reach.
I will not say too much about eating bugs here as we all know about that. It was a while before a bar girl explained to me that there was a proper way to eat each one. You pulled all those scratchy legs off the grasshoppers and those big fat water bugs- you only ate the inside which was about as big as the end of your thumb, soft and yellow and tasted a bit like sweet almonds. The rest of the insects seemed to be sprayed with soy sauce and had a flavor like those crunchy Japanese bar snacks. Not all that interesting. I took a local boat trip up the Chao Phraya River to the last stop. I got off and walked about the town a bit and came to an open air market. At a food stand they were roasting rats on a stick, spread out like they were on a cross.
I bought one to take away and they gave me some phrik-naam-pla to go with it. I sat on a bench down the way wishing that I had at least a knife to cut a piece of it off. The top of the leg looked the best and I bit into it. The skin was tough and the meat almost as tough. I chewed on it some and then spit it out. A failed experiment.
In Siem Reap, Cambodia I sat by the river in a little market and enjoyed foamy home made beer out of bamboo cups while I looked over the barbecue. I ate some fish, frogs and eel. There were snakes roasting with their stomach slit open, five or six small yellow eggs along the inside of each snake. Okay, I’ll try one of those.
The eggs were tender just like boiled chicken egg yolks but the meat was tough and stuck to the tiny rib bones- impossible to eat. The very best snake that I ever ate was rattlesnake in Jackson Hole Wyoming. Tender white meat sauteed in butter with tomato, lemon and capers. I thought that if I simmered a snake long enough, the meat would fall off the bone and I could do the same thing here in Thailand. My neighbor was building some houses and was always complaining about the cobras moving about in the undergrowth. I need a big one I told him. He brought a whopper over two days later.
I nailed the head to a tree, sliced the skin around the neck and peeled the skin right off. A piece of cake so far. There wasn’t much of a stomach to clean out and I coiled the snake into a pot and covered it with chicken stock. I don’t think it was cheating to use canned chicken stock as I use it for everything. I simmered that damn snake for three hours and the meat was still not tender.
Loosing my patience, I took it out, chopped it into three inch pieces and simmered it some more. I added tomato bits, pieces of mango, parsley, garlic, lime juice and a bunch of spices. After another hour the meat was still on the bone. As I had promised my friends dinner, I thought what the hell I’ll serve it as soup. It was very colorful and didn’t look too bad I must say.
They had to suck on the snake ribs but everyone that was brave enough to try it liked it and a Thai girl told me it was especially good. I took that as a big complement and never mentioned the Campbell's chicken soup.
In Phnom Penh, I came across a sidewalk food stand where a lady was deep frying baby birds. The birds had been plucked and washed and you ate them whole. You could have them plain or dipped in batter. I had always wanted to try these. I ordered one of each. They were not too meaty and a bit bony as you ate the beak, head and legs-everything.
I thought I was safe from food poisoning as the meat was cooked to order but I did not think about how long they had been sitting there and the next day I was as sick as a dog. Just as well I suppose as I went to the big yellow Central Market and they were selling cooked black spiders as large as the back of your hand. They were so fat, all you had to do was pull off a few of the legs and bite right in but I was in no condition and who knew how long they had been sitting in the sun.
The only strange thing that I had tasted back home in New York was when I went over a Japanese friend's house for some holiday or other and there were about eight of us seated at the dining room table. One man brought out a large turtle and cut its throat and let it bleed into a pot. Jeeze, this is a hell of a start for dinner I thought. I wonder what’s coming next.
He poured the blood into shot glasses and then gave each one of us a shot of clear Japanese rice whisky. We drank one shot after the other. The blood tasted like -well- blood and the whiskey tasted like it could the peel paint right off your car.
The turtle came back as pieces in soup and it was tender and the meat was green colored and I even received a tiny piece of liver.
Actually the most fun I’ve ever had eating something strange was in New York where one can find authentic and delicious foreign food. I took a Jewish girlfriend downtown to Little Italy for dinner and I ordered half a goat's head. Now she heard me order it but never imagined that’s what it actually was. It’s pretty tasty as you get some of the brains and the cheek meat is delicious. I have to admit it was a bit nasty looking when it came to the table.
The lips were curled back exposing the teeth in a gruesome grimace and the tongue was hanging out. I plunged my fork in, plucked out an eyeball and popped it into my mouth. My girlfriend sprang from the table and didn’t come out of the ladies room for twenty minutes.
I’ve eaten all of it, hearts, lungs, intestines, tripe, thymus, liver-(foie gras, sauteed, please God more) calves brains with black butter in France and bull's testicles in Spain. Sea slugs, fat white bamboo grubs, snails and worms.
Corn fungus and tiny white ant’s eggs in Mexico, both of which are delicacies (of course). I want to eat whale. My apologies to anyone that’s politically correct out there. Human flesh? Have you ever taken a good look at the inside of your girlfriends thigh? That’s all I’m going to say about that.
A few things I will draw the line at though. Bush meat, you know gorillas, monkeys and such- ethically wrong.
Jerry Hopkins, a wonderful character and superb story teller, once served his wife’s / baby’s placenta in the form of a pate to his friends. Mmmm, Ok maybe with a good cracker or a few capers. For those interested in this kind of thing, Jerry has a great book out called Strange Foods’ published by Periplus. I can also recommend a superior cook book, Unmentionable Cuisine’ by Calvin W. Schwabe, published by University Press of Virginia.
I feel like something of a voyeur reading that….but reading it is as close as I'll ever get to being this adventurous at the dining table.