Coming back from Sapa we had a day to kill in Hanoi whilst waiting for a night bus out of there. We weren’t entirely sure what to do, but we knew we wanted to do something “cultural.” We Googled our options. The museums all looked a bit dull so we settled on hitting up the prison. It was…meh (my favourite part may or may not have been the wind from the fans next to the exhibits)…and we still had 5 hours to kill.
We had previously seen a poster advertising this “Snake Village” thing at our hostel but it was an evening activity, ridiculously expensive, and you needed 8 people to book. My Google searches told me it was essentially a neighbourhood of restaurants selling snake dishes, and you could pay extra to eat the snake’s beating heart. It sounded horrifying. We were intrigued.
I asked the front desk if we could do it on our own and go there for lunch rather than dinner. They said yes, handed me a business card of their recommended restaurant (all in Vietnamese with a picture of a snake on it) and told us a taxi would know the way.
Whilst wandering to find a taxi we happened to run into some Canadian Stranger Friends I’d met in Don Det. I told them of our afternoon plans and they agreed to come along “just to watch.” We hailed a cab, showed the driver the snake card, and off we went.
We arrived to a neighbourhood that looked a little sketch (basically a bunch of garages along a narrow street). I could see the experience being slightly terrifying in the evening but in the light of day it was aight. There weren’t any signs in English but there were a couple of billboards sporting pictures of snakes so we knew we were in the right place.
The restaurant the hostel had recommended was the swankiest in the area, though nobody spoke English. We were greeted by a ripped Vietnamese man. Our snake mimes and hissing told him we were there to eat snake. He took us past a row of cages housing porcupines, pigeons and ducks (apparently you can also eat other animals here…including monkeys. Gah.) to a locked cupboard. He then proceeded to unlock the cupboard and pull out a number of different snakes using a metal pole. We squealed and acted (predictably) super girly before we manned up and held a couple of the snakes he offered (mostly of the garden variety). My Google search had told me that most restaurants also carry cobras so I asked the man if he had one. “Cobra” was apparently an English word he understood as he smiled, unlocked another cage, and pulled out a cobra. We did not hold the cobra.
We started another game of charades, indicating that we would like to order food and he led us to a table in the restaurant. The miming was getting tiresome and we were in no way understanding each other so he eventually brought out a cellphone with a (somewhat) English-speaking man on the other end. Karlee spoke to him first, telling him we were there to eat snake. He asked how many people. She said 4. He asked how many hearts.
Now, I am not usually an adventurous eater (at all), but we had agreed to do something “cultural” so I figured, why not, go big or go home. If I’m going to eat something gross in Asia it’s going to be the grossest thing possible.
Karlee and I looked at each other, shrugged, and ordered 2 snake hearts. Then Maria (who had come along “just to watch”) piped up, saying she would eat a heart as well (go Maria). Man on the phone told us that for 4 people, 3 snakes, and 3 snake hearts it would cost a total of $75. This was becoming quite the pricey adventure so I wanted to ensure we would be eating the “beating heart” I had read about online (if I’m gonna eat a snake heart I’m gonna do it right). The man confirmed that the heart would, in fact, be beating. We patiently waited for our snakes to arrive.
We chit chatted, oblivious to our surroundings, when out of nowhere a snake slithered up against Karlee. She screamed, we all screamed, and two Vietnamese men appeared, chuckling to themselves with snakes in hand. They grabbed the rogue snake that had now taken residence at our table and motioned us over to a cutting board.
I would like to note that we had absolutely no idea what we were getting ourselves into. I assumed they would kill the snake, stick its heart in a shot glass and we would eat it. No.
It works like so:
The men hold the snake in place, slice a small hole and partially pull out its beating heart. You are then expected to rip the heart out with your teeth (as it is still beating), swallow, and follow it with a shot of vodka.
They then drain the blood into a glass, make a second incision and drain the snake’s bile into a separate glass. You do two shots: one of the blood and one of the bile.
They follow this up with a 6 course snake feast that includes “snake pied,” “snake rice by fat pouring,” “fried snake ribs brittle,” “snake roll,” “fried snake,” and “soft fried snake skin.”
The whole experience was…challenging. There are a lot of weird foods in Asia (crickets, unknown meats, fried tarantula, etc.) and I had previously refused to eat any of them. But, for some reason, on this sunny Friday afternoon I was feeling ballsy and decided to face the fear and do things the Asian way. The feeling of sticking your mouth against a live snake and eating its heart is indescribable (definitely not in a good way). It was absolutely disgusting. But I did it. And I am proud of myself. It was straight up the most difficult thing I have ever done.
The heart itself didn’t really taste bad, nor did the blood. It was more the consistency and warmth that was nasty. The bile had an unsavoury flavour and the “snake roll” was the worst dish of the feast by far (too much skin. Ew.) The “snake rice by fat pouring” was actually kind of good…kind of.
All in all, it was quite the adventure. I have no desire to ever, ever eat a snake, snake heart, or any other kind of heart ever again, but I am glad I did it.
Only in Hanoi…