Sunday, May 10, 2009

eating cobras in Hanoi

There’s a town outside Hanoi that’s famous for breeding snakes for consumption in upscale Hanoi restaurants and elsewhere in Asia (and maybe even beyond, who knows). We took taxis to Hanoi from Haiphong (2 hours), had lunch, met our colleague whose son is visiting, then stopped at the Temple of Literature, the country’s first university which was built starting in the 11th century. After about an hour there we headed to a small historical village where the oldest man there – he had an ID card to prove that he was 83 – who looked like Ho Chi Minh guided us around for about an hour. After that we got in the car and drove another 1.5 hours to what I think was Le Mat, which is the snake village. Our colleague claimed we could go there and eat a cobra. I wasn’t totally on board with that idea until one of my other colleagues pointed out that you only ever had to eat a cobra, drink a cobra’s blood, and/or eat a cobra’s heart (these were all part of the deal) once in your life, and you would be a hero to all of your friends and coworkers once you got back home. You might even get a promotion.

We arrived at the restaurant our colleague had been to before and, once they understood what we came for, out came the snakes. They were so cool, both the snakes and the guys handling them. They pulled two cobras out, one after the other, and let them crawl on the floor for a while. The snakes hissed exactly like they sound in movies. It was unbelievable. I’m including a picture here but it doesn’t in any way portray the actual scene, and there’s better pictures and video taken by others that I’ll post later.

They originally suggested that we could pay U$300 to eat a cobra, which is insane. We talked them down to half that, and probably still got ripped off, but we’d been 6.5 hours in the car by now and were really just ready to eat the cobra already. After letting them crawl around a little longer, they proceeded to squeeze the poison out of the snake’s head, cut it in half lengthwise, drain the blood out of it, cut out its heart and liver, and put this all on the table. I drank the blood and ate a fair amount of the snake afterwards. I would have eaten the heart, too, except my colleague who convinced me to drink the blood because of the hero thing, called it a week ago. The heart was small, but still beating after being cut out, by the way.

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