Reflections and stories on six months of life, culture, food and friendship in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Goat Testicle Wine

Are you blog readers out there actually all that interested in my descriptions of food? Well, I don't know what the attraction is to reading about food when you can't eat it, but there must be something to it. After all, think of the Anthony Bourdain phenomenon, not to mention the Food Network (and how many of us actually cook those recipes?). And if you think I'm obsessed, try reading a blog called Sticky Rice which is dedicated to Hanoi food discoveries.

I don't cook here at all, unless you count inserting cheese in baguettes. I don't have the pots, pans and utensils and I don't know where to buy things here (nor do I have the time). And it's hard to justify cooking when there are the most incredible food adventures around ever corner and every meal costs about a buck. Instead I eat all my meals out. This is part of the reason I am always talking about my meals.

The highlight last week was my goat dinner on Wednesday night. Huan took me out to a famous place called Nhat Ly. It's a smokey open air affairs on the 2nd floor of a non-descript building near St. Joseph's Cathedral. Each table has a hole in the middle in which they place a pot of red-hot coals. The first course is barbequed goat. There are two types: a red meat, and a white meat which is apparently breast. They looked like two totally different species to me. You grill them over the coals and then wrap the morsels up in rice paper with herbs, green banana, star fruit, vermicelli, scallions, etc. and then dip the whole thing in a creamy sauce. The next round is a goat hotpot. Traditionally this is drunk with some kind of ruou which is a kind of rice wine. Huan asked me if I was interested in the variety with fresh goat blood. I politely declined. At this point he just ordered another kind in Vietnamese and that was that.

It wasn't until the flask was empty that he asked me what I thought of it. I loved it. I expected it to taste like sake, but it tasted closer to an earthy whiskey or mezcal. It turns out it is called something like ngoc duong, which is in fact rice wine flavoured by goat testicle.

I mentioned this at our communal library lunch the next day, and this seemed to result in a kind of male bonding with all the male staff in the library. Goat is considered a male food which is associated with virility, like dog and snake. A kind of Viagra meal. Immediately they wanted to know about the rest of my evening. Maybe I was looking a little worn out from a late night? A whole series of bawdy jokes ensued. My usual (female) interpreter shook her head and refused to translate. It turns out the word for goat de also doubles for horny.

My other recent favourite meal was at the Hom Market which is about a 20 minute walk from my house. I thought I had already eaten my lunch when I wandered in and discovered these little bars where you sit down on a plastic stool and point at fresh salad rolls you want. Most of them contain dried spicy beef jerkey. Some of them were rolled in lettuce and tied into little packets; others were rolled up in rice paper. After 7 or 8 of these, the woman made me a drink from fresh passion fruit. I sat there with a big grin on my face.

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