Vietnamese Cuisine - Exotic Dishes

Exotic Dishes

The use of ingredients that are typically uncommon or taboo in most countries is one of the quintessential attributes that make Vietnamese cuisine unique. Television chef Andrew Zimmern visited Vietnam in the twelfth episode of his popular show Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. Cobra beating heart and dried bones, silk worms and bull penis are some examples of the dishes he sampled.

In some countries, unusual ingredients, most of the time, can be found only in exotic restaurants. What makes the use of these ingredients in Vietnam stand out is that ingredients that are deemed atypical in most countries can play a customary role in daily family dishes, from the poor's to the riches'.

A common and inexpensive breakfast dish that can be found in any wet market, balut (hột vịt lộn) is a fertilized duck egg with a nearly developed embryo inside which is boiled and eaten in the shell. It is typically served with fresh herbs: rau răm or Vietnamese coriander, salt, and pepper; lime juice is another popular additive, when available. A more unusual version of balut dish – Fetus quails (trứng cút lộn)- is a snack favored by many Vietnamese students. Paddy crab and paddy snail are the main ingredients in bún riêu ốc – a popular noodle dish – and in some everyday soup dishes (canh) and braised food (món bung). Family meals with silk worms (nhộng), banana flowers (hoa chuối), sparrows, doves, fermented fish and shrimp (mắm cá, mắm tôm tép) are not rare sights. Seasonal favorites include ragworm (rươi), which are made into many dishes such as fried rươi omelet ( chả rươi), fermented "rươi" sauce (mắm rươi), steamed rươi (rươi hấp), stir-fried rươi with radish or bamboo shoot (rươi xào củ niễng măng tươi hay củ cải).

Vietnamese cuisine is also notable for its wide range of meat choices. Exotic meat such as dog meat, snake, soft-shell turtle, deer and domestic goat are sold in street-side restaurants and generally paired with alcoholic beverages. A taboo in many Western countries, consumption of dog meat is a common sight throughout the country and is believed to raise the libido in men. Paddy mouse meat – barbecued, braised, stir- or deep-fried – is a rarer dish that can be found in many Vietnamese rural areas or even high-end city restaurants.

Anthony Bourdain, the host chef of Travel Channel's Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, wrote in April 2005, for the Financial Times, "...everything is used – and nothing wasted in Vietnam." Animal parts that are often disposed of in many Western countries are utilized fully in Vietnamese cooking. Organs, including lungs, livers, hearts, intestines and bladders of pigs, cows and chickens are sold at an even higher price than their meat. Chicken testicles and undeveloped eggs are stir-fried with vegetables and served as an everyday dish.

Many of the traditional Northern Lunar New Year – Tết – dishes such as thịt đông, giò thủ, canh măng móng giò involve the use of pig heads, tongues, throats and feet. Pig and cow tails as well as chicken heads, necks and feet are Vietnamese favorite beer dishes. Bóng, used as an ingredient in canh bóng – a kind of soup, is pig skin baked until popped. Steamed pig brains can be found anywhere along a Vietnamese street. Different kinds of animal blood is made into tiết canh by whisking the blood with fish sauce and cold water in a shallow dish along with finely chopped cooked duck innards (such as gizzards), sprinkled with crushed peanuts and chopped herbs such as Vietnamese coriander, mint, etc. It is then cooled until the blood coagulates into a soft jelly-like mixture and served raw.

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