Among the tourist attractions in Hanoi is a town about 20 minutes away from Old Quarter called Le Mat, also known as "Snake Village." The town is famous for catching snakes and cooking them.
Most cab drivers know a spot to take you to, and most times when you take a tip from a cabbie in Asia, he's probably getting a cut from the restaurant. But the town was just so dark, desolate and creepy, that we just took our cab driver's word for it. There's just no good Yelp reviews for culinary snake cuisine, you know?
The rigamarole of a seven course snake meal includes selecting your snake from a cage, watching them kill it, drinking its heart and eating its body.
The whole idea seems a bit morose and cruel, but I guess it's not really any different than picking out a lobster or fish from a tank to eat. You can select from a cobra or a garden snake (the latter typically being cheaper), and then they seat you in the dining room lined with jars of age-old snake wine while you wait for your catch to arrive.
Look at our scrawny beauty.
Most of these Le Mat restaurants are a family-run operation. This son looks like he has snake blood coursing through his veiny arms, as he disinfects the snakes chest with alcohol and slices it down the middle to drain the blood.
He'll remove the snake's tiny heart and bile sack and place both into a shot glass
that you then drink in all its bloody glory. The boy took the shot. He could feel the beating heart as it descended in his chest. So creepy, but apparently so good for men. As the locals say, snake wine makes men "strong at night." Yeah, you know what I mean.
After the snake is killed, it is taken to the kitchen and prepared for our feast.
Fried and chopped snake with lemongrass and chili to be eaten atop
crushed bone poppadoms that tasted as airy and light as prawn chips.
Snake head fillets - fried and stringy. Whatever meat you could pry off the bones tasted like chicken.
Ground snake meat wrapped in herbs and fried.
Snake egg rolls - pretty tasty little numbers.
Strips of snake stir-fried with mushroom and ginger.
Fried snake skin - some of the best cracklins I've ever had.
And of course snake congee to warm the soul.
This is what a $40 cobra meal looks like in Le Mat.
And this is where you can get it (among the other dozen in the area).
It's weird. If you go, definitely bring a large group of brave pals and a strong immune system (just in case!).