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I Ate Dog Meat in Vietnam

Dog meat, herbs, fish sauce.
Dog meat, herbs, fish sauce.
All photos by Zachary Fagenson

No, I don't know what breed it was. Yes, I know I'm disgusting. It tastes mostly like overcooked lamb. The worst part is actually the mushy gray fermented shrimp sauce that smells like a bowl of anchovies left to bake in the sun for six months.

Now that your basic questions about dog meat -- thit cho (pronounced teet-choh) in Vietnamese -- are out of the way we can dig a little deeper.

In northern Vietnam dog meat is a common, even celebratory meal fare. It is safest, I'm told, to eat at restaurants that specialize in it. It's not uncommon for the poor to dig up a recently deceased Snoopy or pull a stray off the street and sell it to the highest bidder eager to make an extra buck.

In a country where a plate of grilled pork meatballs or chicken thighs sprinkled with rock sugar and fish sauce might cost you a dollar or two, a plate of dog meat with ribbons of fat and skin attached to each will cost you seven.

North Vietnam's taste for dog (and cat) meat stems from yearlong famine that took place there in 1944 and '45, long before work began on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and hippies burned their draft cards.

"Look around," my guide told me on a drive through rice paddies en route to Ha Long Bay. "You don't see any wild animals."

Somewhere between 400,000 and 2 million people died when Vietnam's then colonial master, France, forced its agrarian economy into one to support the war effort.

Easy to find, not for the squeamish.
Easy to find, not for the squeamish.

Desperate to survive the Vietnamese ate anything that moved. And today much of it can still be found on the street. In and around Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam (also called Saigon) thit cay (rat meat) is the preferred obscure protein.

Yet it was dog meat that became the most sought after.

For the first timer, it would be easiest to down for the tucked into a crispy baguette with chilies and a small field of greens, but that's too good to be true. It comes as a heaping grey pile, skin and fat attached, next to a basket of herbs, a small bowl of fish sauce with diced chilies and the aforementioned shrimp sauce.

Luck for you thit cho is always consumed with a bottle eye-crossing rice wine. Dig in.

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