SURVIVE IN VIETNAM – Episode 4
Vietnamese food might not strike people with aggressive flavors. However, if you think it is all-rainbows-and-unicorns boring, the Vietnamese food for daredevils list will prove you wrong. As we are arriving to the “grand finale,” you might want to take a moment to prepare yourself. While the dishes featured in previous articles are no strangers to me, I’ve never managed to gather the courage to try this last dish.
*Author’s note: Shout-out to Billy Wood. Your insight into Vietnamese food as a professional chef has inspired this article.*
4. Raw blood soup (Tiết canh)
One of the most bizarre there is, tiết canh is usually made with duck blood, but the blood can also come from pigs, goats, snakes, dogs, lobsters, etc. After being drawn, it is mixed with salt water or diluted fish sauce to prevent coagulation. For duck blood soup, the duck’s gristle, together with its meat and innards like the gizzard, is boiled and finely chopped. The broth is poured into the blood to neutralize the salt water/fish sauce before the blood is quickly added to the mixture to set. When it reaches a jello-like consistency, crushed peanuts, a tad of lime juice, and fresh herbs are sprinkled on top.
You probably have guessed by now that we have to do some slaughtering to draw fresh blood. Not just that, you have to do it right too! The cut must be deep enough so the blood won’t be dripping and congealing in the process. It also has to be shallow enough and with the right angle so you won’t slit the gullet and let saliva or stomach fluid contaminate the blood. Given how vigorously the poor animal will squeak and wriggle, attempting that Sweeney Todd precision is nearly impossible. Another challenge is nailing the anti-coagulation mix. Not salty enough, and the blood will congeal prematurely and turn black. Too salty, and it will not set later on. There is no definite formula; you adjust accordingly to the type and the size of the animal.
In case the butchering doesn’t turn you off (you blood guzzler!), a good reason to walk away is to… stay alive. All exaggeration aside, this traditional dish is quite a controversy. There are reported cases of parasitic diseases, avian flu, and other health risks caused by the consumption of tiết canh. Still, despite efforts to educate the public about this potential health hazard, somehow it remains popular. If you cannot be certain that the blood is from a healthy animal, eating it is a real gamble.
With tiết canh, What (not) to eat miniseries has come to a glorious end. For better or for worse, I hope it has introduced to you a fascinating side of Vietnamese cuisine, and I would want nothing more than to see you get over your fear and try at least one dish in the list. After all, high risks can lead to high (culinary) rewards, right?
*Next time on Survive in Vietnam: What not to do. Stay tuned to learn some surprising taboos in the Vietnamese ways of everyday life.*