Southeast Asia is a crockpot of weird—and delicious—food.
If you’re wanting to go on the Lion King diet, Northeast Thailand can you serve you plastic bags stuffed with grubs, bamboo worms, crickets, grasshoppers, water bugs—which look exactly like giant cockroaches—and so much more.
When there’s a festival anywhere in Thailand, you’re going to find a peddler of bugs. Now, if you’re feeling even more adventurous, jump the border into Cambodia and you can snack on tarantulas, hairy legs and all.
However, the city of Hanoi in Vietnam hosts perhaps the most eclectic selection of “challenging” food choices, from snake-blood vodka to blaut, with plenty of other options for Vietnamese street food in between.
Start the Day Off Right with Egg Coffee—or Beer
Traditionally, the cream rises to the top when it comes to all things that are good—however, in Hanoi, it’s egg that rises to the top when it comes to the city’s unique take on the world’s favorite breakfast beverage: coffee.
Cafe trung, egg coffee, is a small cup of rich, dark coffee with a creamy soft, meringue-like egg white foam floating on top.
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Giang Cafe, situated in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, is perhaps the most famous cafe to grab a cup of cafe trung. It is also one of the only places that will serve you a can of 333 beer along with a glass of the meringue that makes them so famous.
Mix the egg whites and beer together, and viola—egg beer. Surprisingly, you’ll find yourself ordering a second and a third before you leave town.
Five Courses of Snake—Blood, Heart, and All
Via Isaac Simonelli, Dice Travels
Nguyen Van Duc restaurant is one of many establishments in the “Snake Village” on the outskirts of Hanoi that specialize in snake. Now, this isn’t exactly Vietnamese street food, so be prepared for starched napkins and spending a few more dollars than you would for most meals in the country.
Depending on the restaurant, you will either visit the cages were the live snakes are held or a waiter will bring a snake—feel free to splurge on the king cobra—to your table, stretching it out and presenting it like a fine bottle of French wine.
Once you agree, that, yes, indeed, that snake looks like a fine specimen for consumption, its throat will be slit in front of you and it will be bled out into a bottle of vodka.
The long tradition of preparing snake, including its meat, bones, and skin, leads to a lavish meal worth every Dong they charge you.
What’s Between Eating Baby Ducks and Eggs? Balut.
Trung vit lon, fertilized duck eggs, also known as balut, can be tough to swallow. This common Vietnamese street food is prepared by boiling the fertilized egg after it’s been incubating for 14 to 21 days.
The goal in preparation is to ensure that there are plenty of feathers, bones (which are still soft enough to chew), and other recognizable parts of the embryo (not so different than the French “gourmet” practice of eating ortolan songbirds).
They also make the dish with chicken eggs. 🤷
The dish is commonly served with salt, pepper, chili, calamansi, and Vietnamese coriander leaves. Though usually just boiled, it can also be served pan-fried in tamarind sauce with peanuts or steamed with fresh ginger.
Once you get your head around it all, balut can be quite enjoyable—though many people chicken out.
Wiggling Around with Ragworm Dishes
If the weather is cold, plan on settling in and enjoying some ragworm, or clamworm, delicacies.
Though the worms are also used as bait, when prepared properly, their fatty, slightly sweet and kind of crunchy nature allow them to hold a special place on many menus in Hanoi.
Though ragworms can be fried, stir-fried, or fermented, most often, travelers searching their Vietnamese street food options stumble upon ragworm cakes or cha ruoi. These hamburger-sized patties are usually fried with minced pork, egg, onion, fish sauce, mandarin peels, dill, and a variety of other spices.
According to Thanhnien News, “The mandarin peel is a vital ingredient as it removes the last of the ragworms’ unpleasant odor, adds to the taste, and makes the dish easier to digest.”
Dip it into a Hot Pot: Goat Penis
Though goat penis, which tastes like venison, is going to be the easiest animal sex organ to wrap your lips around for dinner in Vietnam, there are plenty of other options.
Goat penis is often steamed in rice alcohol or marinated with the booze and a mixture of herbal medicines. You can also get the chewy member served in a hot pot with lotus root and lotus seeds.
If you’re looking for more of a mouthful than you’ll get with a small goat penis, go for the ngoc de—goat testicles, which are seriously oversized given the rest of the package. One way in which goat balls are eaten in Vietnam is raw, after they’ve been ground up and mixed with a strong local liquor or rice wine.
If you’re really into this kind of thing, you’ll have to add the Icelandic Penis Museum to your next travel itinerary.
Final Thoughts: Snacking on the weirdest Vietnamese street food: Snake hearts, goat penises, and fertilized eggs
Is this list of the bizarre delicacies that can be found among the tamer Vietnamese street food options exhaustive? Of course not. It’s not even close. There’s still deep-fried frog skin, cicadas, boiled snails (which are amazing), and so much more to talk about.
However, for the fearless, checking these dishes off your to-eat list is a good start when taking a deep dive into the fascinating and challenging culinary world of Hanoi, Vietnam.
In Fact, Unesco named Phuket, Thailand, a City of Gastronomy. So get your grub on there with a sweet tank before heading to the street food challenges of Vietnam.
You digging what Vietnam is serving? Tell us about it on Twitter @tanksgetaround, and we’ll share our favorites.
Isaac, previously the managing editor of an expat newspaper in Thailand, is a freelance writer, photographer drone pilot, adventurer, and all-in-all swell fella. Though currently based in Fairbanks, Alaska, he has traveled extensively in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Read his articles on TTGA, but also check out his wild travels at www.dicetravels.com.