I heard that a short taxi ride away from the Old Quarter there is a snake village where we can pick and eat our very own venomous snake. Having felt rather distant with my inner barbarian lately, I figured this would be a great way to show myself (and all 9 people who read my blog) what a badass I am.
Kristi is very much on the fence about this which fine. This would be better as a group activity and it will be less expensive if we split the taxis and the bill. Once I bring up a group, Kristi decides she’s going to try it. Now we just need to find some people who are as dumb as us to join in the festivities.
I assume that people who appear to be slightly intoxicated would be our best bet. We approach a handful of random people at random bars only to be turned away. Maybe it’s still too early. Maybe I should be buying shots of whisky before popping the question. Rejection hurts so bad. Maybe I should just drink my sorrows.
We find a cheap bar with Bia Hoi for 5,000vnd per glass. There’s some guys beside us.. they’re antisocial. These guys suck. I wouldn’t want to share snake with them even if they wanted to.
Then it happened…. laaaaaaaaaa… like angels singing in the background a group of five come to sit at the bar. I push our oversized table over towards them and insist they join. We chat for a bit and conversation and beers are flowing smoothly. They are a group of friends from France on a 3 week holiday. They are all around 25 years old and though there is a language barrier between most of them, they all seem like really cool people.
Like a nervous, nerdy highschool kid getting ready to ask a girl out of his league to the prom, I pop the question. “How would you guys like to eat snake tonight?” I give a rundown of what it entails and one guys translates to the rest of the group and they all seem to nod in approval. I never thought I would be so excited to eat something that I probably won’t like.
After about 5-6 beers, we decide we are buzzed enough to go. I ask a nearby hostel to call us a taxi and write the name of the snake village on a piece of paper. As we drive , I can feel my adrenaline starting to pick up.
The snake village isn’t so much a village as it is a narrow alleyway full of restaurants that serve up snake. We just go into the first one that our Taxi driver drops us off at. A group of enthusiastic locals come out and usher us into the restaurant. The main guy opens up a cage and using a stick with a hook on it, pulls out a King Cobra. This snake is big and mean looking. He holds it by it’s tail using the stick to keep distance. He does an excellent job pissing it off so it hisses and strikes at him. He seems to be in control but I couldn’t help but notice that he was missing a finger.
He pulled out 2 more types of cobras, one being a Tiger Cobra and I can’t remember the 3rd as I was served quite a bit of alcohol over the course of the night. He did the same demonstrations with all 3 snakes. Then it was time. We get to pick the snake we want to kill and eat. First off… prices. The King Cobra was the most expensive and they wanted 4,500,000vnd ($250usd) but they serve it up over 10 courses. This is more than we want to pay. We end up going for the Tiger Cobra and 8 courses for 2,000,000vnd. Split up 7 ways, it’s just under 300,000vnd which is about what we wanted and expected to pay. We didn’t go from door to door and see how prices varied so it’s possible we overpaid for it. However, we are happy with the price so it really doesn’t matter. We’re buying an experience. It may be barbaric and horrible and I’m sure animal rights activists would have a few four letter words to describe the type of people we are, but an experience nonetheless.
If you’re squeamish, you may want to stop reading
Right there, on the spot, they pull out a Tiger Cobra. Stretching it out and holding it carefully by the neck, an employee grabs a knife and cuts a slit in the cobra. He pulls out it’s heart and carefully but quickly cuts it out. Onto a small plate it goes, the snake starts bleeding. They drip the blood into a glass. They then quickly cut out the stomach, open it up and drain the bile into another glass.
We head upstairs to a big table while they take the snake to the kitchen to be prepared. The heart is still on a small plate on our table… and it’s still beating. We’re told that it will beat for 10minutes after it is cut out of the cobra. The snake has a very strong heart. The waiters upstairs get to work pouring shots for us.
Two shots each.
The first one being bile and rice wine mix. It tasted bitter and chalky… Why am I doing this?
The second being a mix of rice wine and the snake blood. It just tastes like blood. Ever get a bleeding nose so you tilt your head back and the blood drips down your throat? It tastes like that mixed with rubbing alcohol.
I recently Skyped with my uncle and he asked me, “What is the craziest thing you’ve eaten on this trip?” I didn’t have an answer. We’ve played it really safe… until now.
Then comes a special 3rd shooter that I was prepared for. Being that I was already pretty drunk and struggle to make good decisions when I’m sober, I volunteered to eat the heart. Or drink the heart I guess. Another shot with the bile/rice wine mix and the still beating heart dropped into it. I hesitate. I stare at the heart as everyone takes pictures and I have a moment to reflect on my poor choices. I tell myself, “It’s okay. You can do this. Don’t disappoint your new friends. You are a champion.”
Down the hatch it goes.
As if the taste of bile isn’t bad enough, the heart hits my mouth and feels way bigger than it looked. You aren’t supposed to chew it because it can be very bad for your health. I can’t swallow it as quickly as I would like. I can feel it beating in my mouth and esophagus as it goes down. I hate myself sometimes. Luckily for everyone, I keep my composer and hold off projectile vomiting across the table. One of the waiters says to me, “Good for man!” and gives me a wink… then Kristi a wink. I hope he doesn’t mean right away.
We agree to get a bottle of rice wine. We put the female from the French group in charge of selecting what we’re going to have. She chooses a bottle with chopped up snake heads in it. This stuff tastes exactly as you would expect it to. A yellow liquid that has 2 strong tastes… one being alcohol and the other being fermenting snake. Kristi did one shot and refused to touch it after.
Our first course comes out: Stir fried snake meat with vegetables. The flavor of the snake is similar to chicken and texture is chewier like calamari. The closest thing I can compare it to is crocodile. It’s not bad. I am excited that I like this first dish.
The second dish comes out: Snake meat wrapped in a leaf and deep fried. This was Kristi’s favorite of the dishes, I though it was okay. Once we did another shot, I welcomed the taste of just about anything to get the taste of snake wine out of my mouth. Why did we buy a liter bottle?
Third dish is ground snake bone with a thin, crispy flat bread to scoop it on to like a tartar. This was the only dish everyone at the table agreed was bad. It was also the only dish where we left food on the plate. We also did another shot. I am really testing my gag reflex.
Next up were snake spring rolls. Delicious but quite dry. Went well with chili sauce. We continued to drink the snake wine. Why does it look like we barely touched that bottle?
Snake fried rice came out and I loved it. This was probably my favorite of the dishes. I added a few fresh chili to mine and one of the French guys looks at me like I’m crazy. I guess the alcohol is starting to effect his better judgement as he grabbed the chili and add them to his rice. Shoveling a bunch of rice in his mouth, there is a look of instant regret in his eyes. His face changes color and he begins sweating. He grabs his snake wine and shoots it back. More regret in his eyes. We hand him a bottle of water as we tear up laughing. Time for another shot. This time it tastes like victory… no it doesn’t. It still tastes like sadness and depression.
We then had deep fried snake skin which is every bit as crappy as it sounds. I just drowned it in chili sauce. Shot time. I’m impressed that I haven’t puked yet.
We also had a snake omelet that I cannot for the life of me remember eating. I think that sums up that dish. Maybe I need another shot. I probably don’t. Shut up, drunk me! You’re drunk.
Our final dish was a snake soup. I was surprised that I actually liked this. Maybe because it’s what I used to chase the last of the snake wine bottle. I have to admit that I’m a bit disappointed that they didn’t make a snake dessert to wrap up the night.
When the bill came, we were full. Turns out you get a lot of food out of a snake when you use every bit of it.
We taxied back to the street bar we started at for more drinks. We drank late into the night sharing our conquests with anyone who would listen to our drunken ramblings.
This is an experience that I likely wouldn’t go out of my way to do again but I certainly don’t have an issue trying new things. A great night out of new friends that turn into fun stories.
If you’re in Hanoi and wanting to do this, here’s a guideline of what we paid:
Taxi there: 126,000vnd
Tiger Cobra: 2,000,000vnd
Snake wine: 150,000vnd
Taxi back: 94,000vnd
Total: 2,370,000vnd divided by 7 people.
I’m sure you can do it cheaper with a bit of negotiating. We just went for it and didn’t argue prices too much as we heard the average cost is around 300,000vnd per person.
Next place we’re headed to is Ninh Bihn about 90km south of Hanoi. Thanks for reading.