The Day I Chickened Out of Eating
Part One of my Adventures in Vietnam
A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be in Vietnam for work. Having lived in Korea for two years and having sampled their style of BBQ on more than one occasion, I was eager to try some authentic Vietnamese BBQ. I was there for 12 days and had only one day off: I knew I had to make the most of it. So on that fateful morning, I armed myself with my DSLR around my neck, my iPhone in my pocket and went downstairs to the lobby to speak to the concierge.
My brief was simple: I love to eat BBQ, photograph it and write about it and I wanted to experience a traditional Vietnamese BBQ restaurant. The response was surprising: she told me that Vietnamese people didn’t have traditional BBQ restaurants and that Vietnamese BBQ was street food. This was somewhat unsettling given some unfortunate experiences I’d had with Korean street food, but summoning up some intestinal fortitude (like what I did there?) I headed out to find the best street food that the Old Quarter had to offer.
I stepped out of my hotel and turned left, looking for street food glory. The very first thing I saw was the photo on the right.
Yes, these ladies are cleaning chickens. And yes, that big black line at their feet is the curb. So yes, they are prepping chickens in the street. They were plucking and disemboweling the chickens right there on the sidewalk. With people walking past, splashing in the water and scooters and cars spraying dirt and grime around everywhere. I gulped my breakfast back down into my stomach, took a sneaky picture with my iPhone and kept walking.
Around the corner I found a street market with beautiful looking fruit and vegetables. Oh, and a guy cleaning and gutting fish. In the street. Again, I took a sneaky photo with my iPhone and turned around to find a traditional Vietnamese butcher shop…
These tables were untreated and covered in raw meat, which was uncovered, unrefrigerated and out in the street. Behind those tables, that’s not a doorway, that’s the entire store. That meat was sitting out in 32 degree Celsius heat with nothing there to keep the flies away.
Two doors further down, I started to smell something really good. My mouth started watering and I was filled with mixed emotion.
This lady had the most impressive system so far. She was in the street, but not on the street. She had a screen protecting the fire and the food on one side. She was wearing gloves and a bandanna so was clearly concerned about food safety. She even had a sign. But she wasn’t preparing her own meat… which meant she had probably bought it from the stalls I’d just been past. I stood there for what must have been 4 full minutes, torn as to what to do.
In the end, too traumatised from memories of the past, I put my phone back in my pocket and slunk a coward’s path back to the hotel where I jumped on a bus for a tour of Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. He probably ate too much street food…
Are you braver than me? Let me know in the comments below!