I went out for dinner with the team I'm working with in Hà Nội tonight. They'd taken me out for street food for lunch, which was divine, and thought perhaps a traditional restaurant would be a more gentle introduction to the night life on day one.
The two tables we sat at each had a hole in the middle, with a burner set under them. On these burners would be placed large pots containing a watery soup, to which other foods would be added to cook them: chicken, bacon, leafy greens, and lots of mushrooms; this place was famous for them, apparently.
There was much discussion over food, form work related topics to cultural comparisons, including food. I mentioned that Melbourne has lots of Vietnamese restaurants, and asked if there were any Australian restaurants in Hà Nội. It seems my humour wasn't being lost easily tonight, and I was quickly asked what we do eat. Us Aussies love meat - doesn't matter what, just meat, usually sliced think and chucked on a barbeque. We talked about the stranger meats we eat, such as kangaroo, emu and crocodile, and someone suggested I try frog. Apparently, I would be able to hop back to my hotel afterwards, in one hop, and save myself the taxi ride. That sounded promising.
After commenting that it tasted like chicken a couple of times, Tung informed me that I was eating chicken, and the frog hadn't arrived yet. Oops! Turns out it doesn't taste like chicken - it's more like pork, only a bit gamier.
At around the same time, I was given my first cultural challenge of the trip. I live in a country that eats Skippy (not their words, but the cuteness factor will be important in 12 words time), so would I be interested in trying a local dish? Of dog?
I have considered my reaction to this question in the past, for cats, dogs, and other 'cute' animals. I consider that I eat lamb, cow and pig. And kangaroo. And I still want to try emu and crocodile. So how hypocritical would it be for me to say no to dog? People eat rabbit, and that's a pet. Is it just a pet thing, or is there some deep seated link between eating dogs and cats and savagery? I'm not sure I'll ever understand why I link eating dog to "wrong" and yet many other meats are fine.
My primary consideration, however, is the welfare conditions and cruelty aspect, and I ask myself that of all meats I eat. The truth is, in most situations, I don't know where the meat I eat is from, how it was slaughtered, what it was fed, and how much love it received while alive. Even organic beef could come from sad animals. I have no interest in deflecting this social responsibility on to the producers, but I also realise that in making a conscious decision to eat meat of any sort at a restaurant, I forgo my ability to know the answer to any of these questions.
So it is with an open mind and desire to gain cultural experiences while traveling, that I'm going to eat dog at some point this week.
Tomorrow, however, I'm going to try Pork Blood Pho. I'm promised it's delicious, and fresh blood.
Good job too - I hate stale blood.