Adventure Eating in Hanoi, Vietnam – Part III

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Welcome to the third and final installment in my three-part series on adventure eating in Hanoi, Vietnam. If you missed Part I (which showcased balut – fertilized duck eggs) you can find it here; for Part II (insects, amphibians and arachnids), click here. For this installment, we’re pulling out all the stops and I’ll be sharing my experience eating cobra.

Fair warning: Some of the following images are graphic.

adventure eating in Hanoi, Vietnam

Our quest for adventure eating in Hanoi, Vietnam, culminated in a dinner at Nguyen Van Duc Snake Restaurant. Here, our snake handler holds up our cobra for an excellent photo op. Image credit: Cherri Megasko

Our evening started with a 30-minute taxi ride to Nguyen Van Duc Snake Restaurant on Le Mat Street, “across the bridge” from our hotel. We knew we were in for an interesting evening once we got off the main road and began a series of twists and turns through parking lots and down dark alleyways. When our taxi finally stopped, my husband and I looked at each other like, “This can’t possibly be it.” But our driver, who spoke no English, assured us we were there by persistent head-nodding and enthusiastic pointing.

He directed us towards an alleyway dimly lit by Christmas lights in a few oddly appointed palm trees. As we began our way down the passage we soon realized we weren’t in Kansas anymore. I got the distinct feeling I was an extra in “The Deer Hunter” and was about to turn the corner to see Christopher Walken donning a red bandana and pointing a revolver to his head.

Upon entering the restaurant we were immediately greeted by the Maitre d’. He was smartly dressed in a black suit which seemed contradictory to the surroundings of rusted metals cages filled with doves, geese and of course, snakes. Even the snake handlers were nicely dressed – aside from the thick rubber boots they wore to protect their lower extremities from venomous bites.

adventure eating in Hanoi, Vietnam

At Nguyen Van Duc the cobra handlers wear rubber boots to protect against unfortunate accidents. Image credit: Cherri Megasko

We got down to business right away, and after establishing that we wanted the cobra, our handler chose one by size, according to our party of three. He removed the snake from its enclosure with his unprotected hands and dropped it to the tile floor. He stepped on its tail to keep it from slithering off while he closed and secured the lid.

Continuing to hold it by the tail he lifted it and placed it on the metal railing that stood between us and him. The cobra instinctively commenced to wrap itself around the railing putting on a bit of a show just mere inches from where we were standing. After a short time the handler withdrew the snake and removed its fangs (which was the only gruesome part of the experience).

adventure eating in Hanoi, Vietnam

Our cobra coils around the railing for a short pre-dinner show. Image credit: Cherri Megasko

From that point things moved along rather quickly as the cobra’s heart was removed, its blood was drained, the head was cut off, and then its gallbladder was extracted. I was given the heart (still beating) and I obliged by swallowing it whole. Because I did not chew it, there really wasn’t much taste – only a slight irony hint of blood.

adventure eating in Hanoi, Vietnam

Adventure eating in Hanoi, Vietnam, can be an incredible experience. Here, two snake handlers work together to drain the blood from our cobra. Image credit: Cherri Megasko

The blood was mixed with a few ounces of vodka, as was the bile from the gallbladder – in separate bottles, of course. The blood-diluted vodka tasted only of vodka, and since I am a vodka drinker, I enjoyed it quite well. The bile infusion had a slightly acrid taste, and although not particularly unpleasant, was not something I’d normally enjoy with an olive.

adventure eating in Hanoi, Vietnam

The cobra blood (left) and bile (right) are mixed with vodka for a tasty cobra cocktail. Image credit: Cherri Megasko

At this point we were escorted to our table and our dinner experience began. When ordering cobra at Nguyen Van Duc Snake Restaurant you are served 11 courses, each using various parts of the snake and cooked by differing techniques, from the head to the liver to the skin. Our cobra menu included:

  • Cobra soup
  • Sautéed cobra with onion and fragrant spice
  • Pan-fried cobra rolled in lot leaves
  • Cobra spring rolls
  • Fried cobra ribsbritable served with dry pancake
  • Crispy fried cobra skin
  • Cobra pied
  • Cobra chitterling and liver
  • Stewed cobra with cobra head and Chinese medicinal leaves
  • Deep-fried cobra
  • Cobra gruel
adventure eating in Hanoi, Vietnam

Our Nguyen Van Duc cobra feast consisted of 11 dishes made from different parts of the snake. It was the highlight of adventure eating in Hanoi, Vietnam. Image credit: Cherri Megasko

Now, I’m not going to pretend that I know what each of these courses is. And unfortunately, no one there seemed to know more than a few words of English, so asking for an explanation was a waste of time. From the research I’ve done since returning, “lot leaves” appear to be betel leaves – the same thing chewed along with betel nuts to get you high.  “Ribsbritable” and “pied” are still a mystery to me.

Nothing on the menu was distasteful. Everything was quite good, including the chitterlings. In fact, my absolute favorite of all was the liver. It was rich and moist and very akin to a chicken liver, which is one of my favorite foods.

adventure eating in Hanoi, Vietnam

My favorite dish was the cobra liver (lower left). Image credit: Cherri Megasko

For those who squirm at the thought of eating snake, Nguyen Van Duc Snake Restaurant also offers many other, more mainstream entrée choices. Our traveling companion, who accompanied us on this adventure, ordered the fried prawns, which looked and tasted delicious.

All-in-all, this experience was one of best culinary bargains I have enjoyed to date. All 11 cobra dishes (plus the prelude to dinner), the fried prawns, four beers, two soft drinks, tax and tip totaled less than $90 US.

Even if you’re not an adventure eater, I would highly recommend Nguyen Van Duc Snake Restaurant. The experience – from the trip getting there to the hustle and bustle of the wait staff within the restaurant – is one you will remember and appreciate for a lifetime.

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15 thoughts on “Adventure Eating in Hanoi, Vietnam – Part III

  1. Greg Todd

    Several of these dishes were quite good. The ones that look like meatballs were my favorite. The soup was very good also. If I still drank alcohol, I would have tried the drinks. You’ll just have to take my word on that.

  2. Robin (Masshole Mommy)

    Wow, you are so brave. I could never eat something that I wasn’t sure what it was like that. What a unique experience you guys had.

  3. Shannon

    While the preparation sounds a bit cruel, several of the courses definitely sound like something I would try. I love the way you tell a story and weave in bits of very relatable cultural references to express the mood and feeling.

  4. Denise

    That was such an experience, I don’t know if I would have been able to do it, but I love that you shared it with us

  5. Catherine S

    What a neat and interesting experience. I have a thing about snakes. I don’t think I could bring myself to eat one.

  6. Sara

    I just couldn’t eat a snake. I come from a family of reptile lovers, it would be like eating a family member! I’m glad you had such an interesting experience though!

  7. Risa

    Wow! I can’t say that I would ever want to try this. And seeing the food killed in front of me before eating it would just be too much for me to handle. It does sound like a very interesting experience though.

  8. Toby

    I think The Hung snake restaurant is better choice. You can find The Hung is easier and they have wild snake better than farm snake!

    1. Cherri Megasko Post author

      Thanks for the heads up, Toby! I will definitely check that out if ever we return to Vietnam.

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