If you throw around the words “cheap or free food” around a graduate student, I can guarantee their reaction will be the same. Their eyes will light up and their attention will be immediately captured, and next thing you know they will be around the food like a float of Nile Crocodiles around recently killed prey. While traveling for research or holiday, I will at least treat myself to one nice meal, but the rest of the time I stick to my graduate ways – dirt cheap food. Being here in Vietnam, food is pretty cheap, especially if you eat more local “delicacies.” So last night my friend took me to a local restaurant to try some unique, good Vietnamese food that was just perfect for a student budget. Not only did it feel my belly, but I now know if I ever got stranded in the wilderness I could eat just about anything.
As I looked through the menu, my eyes popped open more and more. There were your usual protein staples: chicken, fish and beef. I even looked for bird saliva as I had that the other day, and honestly is quite good! Its kind of intimidating at first because its slimy and goopy, kind of reminded me of slime from Slimmer from Ghostbusters. But with a little sugar and lotus seed topping, it was quite delicious! As I was flipping through the menu, a plate of quail eggs was brought to the table. My friend said “try it.” I asked him how it was cooked, and he just smiled and said “eat it!” I thought it was going to be like eating a hard-boiled egg, so I started to peel away the shell. Then I started having flashbacks of my time eating Balut in the Philippines- my stomach started to get butterflies. Then I noticed something familiar- a shape of a head and what looked like a beak. I immediately put the egg down, “I already had bird fetus once on this trip, and I honestly can’t do it again! I’ve already checked that bizarre food of my list of things to do in Southeast Asia.” I gave him the egg and I continued to fumble through the menu.
So besides ordering “normal” food such as fish, I decided to be a little adventurous. I first started with eating crocodile. I’ve had alligator before so it wasn’t that big of a deal. Very tender and moist- absolutely delicious with the sauce they provided. Was thinking of all my Cajun friends back in Louisiana, and my first time eating alligator with two of my undergraduate students. Not too much of a difference between alligator and croc.
One thing I regret was when I went to China in 2008 and cowered out of eating scorpion. It was more for the ideal of being vegetarian at the time. Well, I decided it was time to make up for it. I already ate bug larvae while in Brasil (a bug that lives inside cocounts and is absolutely delicious- tastes like an Almond Joy!). When I ordered the crickets and scorpion, I was thinking they were going to be the sizes that were in China, very small and no more than a couple of centimeters long. I was wrong- this restaurant was serving crickets and scorpions that must have been fed steroids! Some of the crickets were the size of my pinky, and they were fat. So, took my chopstick and picked
up a medium size cricket from the bunch- I couldn’t help look at it. Its somewhat intimidating, but mind over matter. My friend told me it would just be crunchy. I took a deep breath- popped the cricket in my mouth and kept chewing. “Not bad, and it could use some more flavor.” It tasted like crunchy flakes. Popped in a couple more throughout the night. But then I started to think about that parasite that lives inside crickets and pops out of them like the alien in the movie “Alien.” After that thought, I was done with crickets for the night.
I felt ready for the scorpions, but then they brought the plate and my eyes almost bulged out of my head. These weren’t tiny scorpions- they were like fried King Scorpions. There were two a little about 5 centimeters in length. Holy crap, I was not ready for that. I had my friend eat one first. I grabbed one and started to do yoga breathing- super intimidating looking into the read eyes of this insect. I finally just took one deep breath and put half the scorpion in my mouth “CRUNCH!!!!” It wasn’t bad- just tasted like flakes, a mild flavor and good!!! I ate the rest of the body and tail. In all honesty, I could have eaten another one. I preferred the scorpion over the crickets.
Last thing we ate there was ostrich. Super moist and chewy- not too bad. I started to flip through the rest of the menu to see what I could possibly try next time as my belly was absolutely full from all the food. Snails, frogs, deer, goat nipples, goat penis and testicles… part of me was wondering if I could fit another unique food item in my stomach. I couldn’t. Maybe next time, as this restaurant is the perfect pricing for a graduate student- a lot of food for a cheap price. And I have to admit I”m surprised my stomach is handling everything quite well, although later in the night I did start to feel bloated. Its probably just protein overload, nothing that a local drink couldn’t cure.