Hanoi dog meat lovers unswayed by uncivilized tag

By Tat Dinh   September 21, 2019 | 11:57 pm PT
Hanoi dog meat lovers unswayed by uncivilized tag
Dogs are bound in sacks before their slaughter. Photo by Reuters/Dwi Oblo.
A year after Hanoi authorities urged residents to kick the habit, it’s business as usual for dog meat traders and eateries.

It’s an early evening at Thai Ha Market, one of Hanoi’s busiest, in Dong Da District.

This is the time that vendors put out fresh dog meat for sale at the market entrance. That the trade is brisk is evident from the fact that up to 40 dogs have been butchered, grilled until their skin turns a golden brown, and stacked one on top of one another at the shops that evening. 

Every now and then, someone on a motorbike passing by with a craving for dog meat makes a purchase. Raw meat costs VND150,000 ($6.48) a kilo, while cooked meat ranges from VND200,000 to 300,000, depending on the cooking process.

Around 7 p.m., in Thai Ha Market’s biggest bia hoi (local draught beer) shop where dog meat is served, the 50 or so tables are all occupied, mostly by middle-aged men.

The exhortations of staff standing outside as they invite passersby to come in, the sounds of knives chopping meat on the cutting board, the clinking of glasses and shouts of "zo zo tram phan tram" (Vietnamese for bottoms up) and the yelling of dog meat orders – things are proceeding normally.

Thanh, who opened her shop in 2004, says they serve around 12 dogs to around 200 customers every day.

Hanoi's campaign calling on people to stop eating dog and cat meat has made no dent in her business.

Last year, Hanoi authorities officially urged people not to eat dog and cat meat because it gave off an offensive image of the city to international tourists. 

"Customers still come regularly, not many early in the month and on hot days. Mostly our regular customers keep coming," Thanh said, adding that dog meat sold on the street mostly comes from the Hoai Duc slaughterhouse on the outskirts of Hanoi. There is a general belief among locals that ones should not have dog meat on the first days of a lunar month as this might bring bad fortune. 

A butcher cuts dog meat at a shop near Thai Ha Market, Dong Da District, Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Tat Dinh.

A butcher cuts dog meat at a shop near Thai Ha Market, Dong Da District, Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Tat Dinh.

At another dog meat haven, Tam Trinh Street in Hoang Mai District, Hanoi, there are four shops that sell live dogs, besides others that sell regular dog meat. These shops are well known suppliers of dog meat to many restaurants in the city.

A restaurant owner who wanted to remain anonymous said most live dogs are brought from central Vietnam, while some are imported from Laos and Thailand and delivered to the slaughterhouses.

The Thai Ha Market and Tam Trinh Street are not the only dog meat hotspots in the capital city. There are many markets in Hanoi that sell it. Statistics from the Hanoi Veterinary Department show that there are more than 400 businesses trading in and/or slaughtering dogs in Hanoi.

Nguyen Ngoc Son, head of the Hanoi Veterinary Department, said the city’s campaign has yielded positive results and the number of dog eaters has reduced.

"I have personally talked to many students and government officials. Many young people have dropped the habit of eating dog meat. In particular, those who work in veterinary departments and pet owners don’t eat dog meat anymore," Son said.

However, he also admitted that "the campaign has lasted for ten years and there is no deadline," because it was difficult to change a long-standing, well established practice.

Meat and poultry used as food must meet slaughter and food safety regulations, but dog meat is not included in the list of animals used for human food. This means it is currently not regulated by food authorities and there is no guideline for them to monitor the quality of dog meat.

Son said that since the city’s announcement last year, Hanoi has not made any other move or started any new campaign to urge people to give up dog and cat meat. One of the reasons for this, Son said, is that concerned authorities have to "focus their resources on preventing and fighting the African swine flu." 

African swine fever first hit Vietnam early February and quickly spread across the entire country.

"Next month, our department will work with Soi Dog foundation (a Thai animal rights organization) to survey all the businesses that sell and butcher dogs in the city; and continue to campaign against eating dog meat," Son said.

Last week, HCMC also made its first announcement against the practice, citing severe health risks and appealing to people’s sentiments.

Whether or not such announcements lead to any significant reduction in consumption of dog meat remains to be seen.

Nguyen Van Kien, 37, a Hanoi resident, eats dog meat twice a month with his friends. He told VnExpress: "I eat it because it tastes very good. Everyone has their own taste and eating habit. In countries like Japan, South Korea, and China, people are still eating dog meat so we can’t say this act is uncivilized or off-putting."

A video of Saigon's largest dog meat market in District 12.

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