Wednesday, February 14, 2007

You Are What You Eat

... maybe that's why I'm sick like a dog this past weekend.

Let's back up a bit. As everyone knows, Lunar New Year is nearly upon us. Customarily, like any major holiday celebrated by any culture, one goes out to eat with family. Being that VA and I recently came ashore, the Tet dinner was combined with a "welcome to VN" dinner. So it had to be a bit more interesting than usual.

I had a minor headache in the afternoon prior to dinner, the first tinge of illness since coming here. Bought some Panadol (paracetamol 500mg - Tylenol to North Americans) at an Old Quarter drugstore for 6k VND. It worked a bit and I felt better.

Then we headed off to dinner, which entailed a 45 minute drive into the mountains. We ate at the Asean Hotel; the dining area was a floating pontoon with a thatched roof, accessed by clambering over a gangplank.

Before we were seated, we of course had to pick out our food. The reason we came out this far was to eat baba, and the host picked out two nice, big, juicy babas.

What's a baba? I couldn't find a wiki about it, and we unfortunately didn't have our camera. [Edit: it's part of the softshell turtle family.] It's basically in the turtle and tortoise family, but it costs more than those animals. They were supposedly raised in ponds nearby. There are baba restaurants inside the Hanoi city limits, but eating baba bereft of the mountain air and views takes something out of the experience, or so I'm told.

So how was it prepared? Of course one needs to drain the blood into some vodka for shots (I had three); and don't forget the juices from the pancreas or some other internal organ (I had one green tinged shot). The animal was split into a few dishes - I remember the salt fried legs and the shells in a soup.

The meat was dark like venison, but it wasn't gamey like I expected. A couple of baba doesn't feed a whole lot of people, so we also had "cho rung" - or forest dog.

It was wrapped in a burlap sack to be weighed, so I didn't get to see the animal. I'm sure it wasn't a dog, 'cause the sack was too small, and besides, one is only supposed to eat dog on certain days of the month. I'm pretty sure that evening wasn't one of those auspicious days.

The forest dog was in a few dishes also - because you pay by the animal, you gotta maximize the number of dishes you get. It was pan seared with lemongrass, steamed, deep fried and of course put in a soup. No bloody shots though.

The hosts were telling us how the meat was really fragrant and much tastier than dog. My palate could discern these distinctions. It was chewy, but tasty enough. Sorta like a cheaper cut of pork.

That night, I got really sick, with a fever and all. I was in bed for about 48 hours straight and I'm still trying to get over it 96 hours later.

Thankfully, VA didn't get sick though. I think we've determined that it was from those bloody shots. No more "really-nutritious-it'll-give-you-strength" drinks for me.


Linda said...

Glad to hear you are enjoying Hanoi, stomach virus notwithstanding! I was only there for a few days but loved it. Did you go to Fanny's Ice Cream yet? Yes, cream+sugar is nutritious, and yummy!

D. said...

Haven't tried Fanny's yet - I'll be sure to look for it. Been eating lots of the local ice cream sold individually wrapped, instead of the "kem y." To me, the Hanoi "winter" is mighty hot already.

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