Dog meat - Hanoi's guilty pleasure

By Hoang Hoang   August 2, 2016 | 01:55 am PT
Every bite takes you across the border between right and wrong.

While in the West dogs are considered friends, dog meat has been a crucial part of Hanoi food since forever, with generations of Hanoians growing up eating ‘thit cho’.

There is a proverb in Hanoi:

“Beauty will be gone

Money will be lost

Only liquor and ‘thit cho’

Stay forever with time”

Don’t be mistaken, the dogs are raised for meat and are not pets. We won’t come and eat your Golden Retriever, German Shepherd or Labrador. The dogs for 'thit cho' are a specific breed raised for their meat. But you have to be careful with choosing the eatery because, unfortunately, large numbers of dogs are being stolen from owners, taken from the streets or sourced from farms, transported long distances and inhumanely slaughtered.

I remember the first time I tried ‘thit cho’. My mother pretended it was beef, but I swear, I was amazed by how delicious the meat was. It had the soft texture of high grade beef with the distinctive fatty flavor of pork belly, along with a unique smell so strong yet so tender, like a beautiful lover who pushes you away but also pulls you closer. I was instantly hooked.

‘Thit cho’ is normally grilled, steamed and made into blood sausage (‘doi cho’) and served with apricot leaf and shrimp paste - the infamous ‘mam tom’. The steaming method is considered the most original way of eating ‘thit cho’ in order to get the real taste, but grilling is what Hanoians favor, giving curious foodies a thrill to remember.

The raw dog meat is burned quickly on a straw fire to remove any fur then seasoned with pepper, salt and lemon grass and tied up with lemon grass leaves before being steamed. The product has a pinkish color with separate layers of lean meat, fat and skin.

Dear healthy eaters, please do me a favor and do not throw the fat away. Wrap the whole piece inside an apricot leaf and dip the whole thing deep in the notorious ‘mam tom’, you will be shocked. The apricot leaf brings a slightly sour sense to balance out the lively fattiness of the meat while ‘mam tom’ grabs the combination by the throat and punches it vigorously to force out the delicate aroma of the meat.

The grilled ‘thit cho’ is more complex than the steamed version. The meat selected for grilled ‘thit cho’ is usually the belly, which has three layers: meat, fat and skin. Marinated for an entire day in local spices such as galangal, lemongrass and fermented rice, the meat soaks up the local goodness before being fired up above blazing hot charcoal.

The sizzling fat creates a fascinating smell, a smell that weakens your brain down to basic instincts and eliminates all of your control, as if you were drunk. The grilled meat is ready when the fat and the skin become crunchy. The inviting, delicious shiny, brownish color of the dish urges hungry customers to sit right down and wait no longer.

Meet up with a few old pals on a chilly winter's evening, squeeze into a tiny room and unwrap a banana leaf packed with ‘thit cho’, just for that smell that takes your mind away from everyday life. Crack open the rice wine and with a few bites of ‘thit cho’, you'll know you are still alive.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VnExpress International or VnExpress.

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