Duck in Three Parts
Egg: I finally got a good shot of the infamous trung vit lon. My earlier shot was actually snapped in Laos. This one ordered curbside for brekky in Bach Khoa after a banh my trung left me still peckish. Koen and I partook. Jon sat this one out.
Fertilized duck egg has lost much of the visceral challenge it once posed for me, but it retains its fascination. I still don't look too closely nor do I linger over it - the taste though is actually quite nice. Egg on the meaty side.
If you do look closely the duck is really not that far gone - at least not as served in Hanoi. According to this very graphic article (you are forewarned!), it's another story altogether in the Philippines where they call it balut. At that late stage duck embryo really does deserve the infamy it has attracted on recent reality shows.
My Bach Khoa egg arrived minus the shell and ready for its close-up. I appreciated the photogenic potential of the naked embryo even if I missed cracking the shell and sipping off the embryonic fluid (a chicken soup-like teaser). The fresh julienned ginger and rau ram were welcome diversions.
Blood: If duck fetus has lost its gory thrill for me, the same is not true for tiet canh vit, a.k.a. raw duck blood soup. Only the brave should click here for the full visual effect of this lovely dish. Still I'm fascinated and I'm game as long as I don't necessarily have to commit to an entire bowl.
I've long heard about this delicacy. The first mention I recall was in a WHO case report of bird flu transmission in rural North Vietnam. I'm unsure if you can still find this dish in Hanoi given the circumstances. Several of my Hanoi friends insist it's quite delicious, but warn me to resist the temptation. Aside from the bird flu issue (which has long ceased to really worry me) it has been known to result in less lethal but still serious episodes possibly requiring extended hospital stays. In any case, I never saw any signs of this dish in Hanoi.
Imagine my shock then when I spotted a little (untranslated) sign on the wall of my favourite pho shack up the street from me here in Toronto: tiet canh vit. I could not believe my eyes. When I pointed to the sign and inquired if they really serve raw duck blood soup, at first I received a vague response to the effect that they are not sure what's in stock right now, let them go look, and was I ready to order my pho? No confirmation that I had actually read the sign correctly. Only later when I persisted in my questioning they finally brought out a nice bright red bowl for me to inspect. Yep no doubt about it: duck blood soup.
Only served on Sundays. Should I or shouldn't I? So far I've enlisted two brave souls who might share a bowl with me. None of us are really keen to commit to more than a couple spoonfulls.
Meat: Somewhere in Linh Dam in the southern suburban fringe of Hanoi lies a field. On one side a lake, on the other a row of buildings set way back, and above hangs a great cloud of smoke. Beneath this cloud a hundred low plastic tables laid out in lines. In total this field must be home to at least a dozen purveyors of the same delicious dish: vit nuong or grilled duck. The dish and its obscure location was only revealed to me last month during my visit. Somehow it had escaped my attention last year. I expected something like the roast duck that hangs in the Cantonese BBQ joints in my Chinatown back home. It was nothing like that. Instead the chunks of duck had been beautifully grilled over charcoal. In fact there were several preparations, each quite different and new to me. I have no idea anymore where this field is. All I remember is the taste of the slightly charred duck meat, the expanse of low plastic tables spreading out, the surreal duck smoke wafting above, and the company of friends. Some day I will drive by again on another motobike. The dreamy quality of that field will then find its place on my already tattered map of Hanoi.