Yeah. Gross, right? Vietnam has a lot to offer to the dark side of the culinary world and I’m doing my best to try all the weird cultural dishes I can whilst I am here. This week’s dish is a beating snake heart.
The restaurant where you can eat this (in Hanoi) is called Snake Village. It’s not an actual village. It is just the name of the restaurant. It is actually not even in Hanoi. It’s a solid 45-minute motorbike ride out into the Vietnamese boonies. It is much nicer then I had expected though – fancy even.
Upon arrival we were confronted with 2 big aquarium tanks full of snakes. The first aquarium had a writhing pit of small snakes inside and the second aquarium had a smaller assortment of slightly less enthused, much bigger snakes.
The first question we were asked is if we wanted to pay by the snake or by the kilogram. With a shrug we said “…snake?” This was going to be expensive so we asked for 1 of the small snakes. Without missing a beat a young man came out of the back, reached his bare hands into the aquarium and pulled 1 out. He promptly took the snake around back where we watched in bemused horror as he took a knife and cut the snake down the length of its underside.
The man took the snake’s heart out of its writhing body and unceremoniously plopped it onto a small white plate. He came back out into the lobby and led us to upstairs to our seats, plate in hand.
The heart was really still beating. It was, by all accounts, the strangest thing… maybe ever. At first it seemed as though there should be a time crunch to eat it before it stopped beating but the heart persisted long past what we thought possible. We had to wait for our drinks before we could eat it apparently.
Eventually, with the heart still beating exhaustedly in front of us, we were given two half full bottles of vodka. One bottle contained a blood red liquid and the other contained a putrid green liquid. The red liquid was snake blood mixed with vodka. The green liquid was poisonous bile from the stomach of the snake distilled in vodka at the right concentration to poison the drinker only enough for them to experience a small high.
Now, have you ever heard of the goldfish shot? The goldfish shot, as the name might suggest, is when you put a live goldfish into a shot glass full of liquor and take the shot goldfish and all. It was sort of an urban legend through universities in America. It undoubtedly happened somewhat frequently at fraternity initiations and the like but I had never actually witnessed it. I had friends that had supposedly done it though. Anyway, I digress.
The point is that that’s a lot like what’s about to happen. The waiter came to our table, poured us 4 shots of snake blood and vodka and then took the small pulsating blob and dropped it into my shot glass. I was going to be swallowing the beating heart whole. Here's a disgusting video, since no mere picture can do this justice.
And I did. I threw the shot back and felt the heart ricochet off the back of my throat and down my esophagus. The amalgam of blood and vodka just tasted like vodka.
Next came shots of the poisonous stomach bile. Supposedly I would feel a powerful high for about 20 minutes but 3 shots of bile later I didn’t feel anything but liquor’s signature burning in my throat. I think the problem was that the snake did not have enough in its stomach to affect all 4 of us. Its venom had been distilled past the point of yielding results. The snake bile high is just supposed to feel like being dizzy so I suppose I didn’t miss that much.
What followed was a multi-course meal composed out of every piece of the snake’s anatomy you can think of, including bones, which I ate minced, with crispy bread. It all tasted pretty good actually. Below are pictures with explanatory captions:
The 1-snake-meal cost us 920,000 VND. That is about 42.60 USD, a cost that was shared amongst our group. That’s expensive for a meal in Vietnam… but it’s also the cost of a life. Granted, it’s a snake’s life, but I still found it to be a bit diminutive.