Known as the snake village, Le Mat has gotta be one of the most bizarre places I have encountered in my travels.
Le Mat is a village located 15 minutes east of Hanoi and is famous for their snake catching and breeding tradition. In the olden days, villagers of Le Mat were snake experts called in to remove those poisonous serpents from all around the region.
But with the modernisation of Vietnam (and presumably lobbying of animal rights groups), this practice has gradually died down. In its place are snake breeding and the dozens of snake restaurants scattered around here.
Vietnamese people have strange taste buds for dishes not usually found on Malaysian dinner tables. While it may appear to us that eating certain animals is "wrong" or "cruel"; in Vietnam, there's nothing "wrong" or "cruel" about eating anything that could sustain the body.
As long as its legal, those Vietnamese would savour whatever animals they could lay their hands on.
Snails. Grasshoppers. Cats. Dogs. Snakes. Rats. All the twelve animals on the Chinese Zodiac.
Heck, if the Dragon existed, I'm pretty sure the Viets would eat it too.
Cobras are especially popular in the Vietnam culture, even more so than dog meat. As much as snakes are considered taboo food in our cultures, they are as common as chicken or beef in Vietnam.
Bottles of snake wine, like the one pictured above, are openly sold in markets all over Hanoi and Sapa. They come in various forms and sizes, from tiny little Hennessey bottles costing just 15,000 dongs (RM3) each to 300,000 dong (RM60) ones which have ginseng, scorpions, geckos and even seahorses included as part of the ingredients.
They said it'll give my kukujiao the extra oomph, but I don't believe that.
Regardless on your personal beliefs on what types of animals are taboo and what is not, a trip down to Le Mat is guaranteed to be an experience both bizarre and interesting at the same time.
If you can stomach your fear, that is.
We went to one restaurant called Quoc Trieu, which was highly recommended by a German expat we met on the boat in Halong Bay.
The restaurant itself is two-storey high. The main dining area is on the top floor whereas the ground floor is where they rear the snakes.
Walking through the entrance, I felt like I was in some creepy high school Biology lab. On display were hundreds of large jars and vats, each with 3 or 4 poisonous snakes, all neatly coiled and fermenting inside the yellowish rice wine.
Some displays were pretty gruesome. There was one with snakes eggs, freshly hatched with the baby heads just popping out.
Then there's this hideous bunch of lizards looped together with a stick through their eye sockets. Not a pretty sight,for sure.
When the animals are fermenting inside rice wines, they live and kicking behind glass windows. The restaurant looked like an exotic pet shop. Except people don't buy those animals to keep as pets.
Being a snake restaurant, there are of course hundreds of live snakes slithering around.
Iguanas making love.
And even porcupines crawling around their cage.
Mind you, these creatures may be considered exotic in Malaysia, but they are all perfectly legal in Vietnam.
The sight of these animals waiting to be made into stew is starting to make me feel a little uneasy. But nothing could prepare me for the most evil, disgusting and repulsive sight of all.
What the hell are ducks doing in a restaurant like this?!
Nicole and I were ushered to the top floor. In contrast with downstairs, the decor looks great here and the interior is nicely spiced up with intricate bonsai plants.
If it weren't for what we saw downstairs, we could well be mistaken for entering a upper-class Chinese seafood restaurant in Malaysia. The difference is, in Malaysia we have live fish, prawns and lobsters swimming in the aquarium tanks downstairs waiting to be cooked. Over here, they have cobras.
We ordered the smallest-sized cobras good enough for two. The bill didn't come cheap at 700,000 dong (RM140), but I probably should've bargained.
A short while later, the man in blue brought out this live, slithering little cobra.
Looking at the multiple bite marks on his arm, it's not difficult to imagine exactly where he got those wounds from. This villager of Le Mat must be so used to being bitten by cobras, he's probably immune to the venom by now.
Or maybe he's mutated into part-human part snake already. I'm pretty sure if he took off his pants, we'd be greeted by the sight of a vicious one-eyed snake.
The cobra was killed instantly with a quick incision down it's main arteries.
First, he drained its warm blood (or was it cold-blooded?) into a glass of rice wine. Then he removed the gall bladder, and emptied its bitter contents on another glass.
Finally, he cut open the belly of the snake and carefully placed its heart, still beating, on a plate before my eyes.
I looked at the waiter as he poured the organ down the glass mixture of blood and rice wine. I have never been so equally disgusted and terrified at the same time since the last time I pooped in my pants.
"This is it, " I said to myself as I lifted the glass.
It was like participating in a real life episode of Fear Factor.
In one swift movement, I closed my eyes, opened my mouth, tossed my head back and let the still-beating heart and blood slide down my throat.
How did it taste like? Very, very strange.
It all happened really quickly. But when I chugged down the vampiric mixture of blood and beating heart, it tasted like a strong shot of Tequila, with a piece of Nata de coco going down my throat.
Maybe its the thought of having swallowed a heart, or maybe it was the alcohol, but I was getting a lil queasy. I felt like puking, but I didn't want people to think that I puked my heart out.
The greenish liquid snake bile was equally difficult to swallow, literally.
Nicole described it as tasting similar to bitter gourd, or wheatgrass. As weird as this might sound, it was actually quite good.
Luckily, lunch was served soon afterwards.
We were served about seven dishes of the snake cooked in various ways. And to be honest, it wasn't all that bad.
There were snake soup, snake meat in spring rolls, snake in sushi, grilled snake, minced snake, stir-fried snake (which tasted like octopus), and even deep fried snake skin (which tasted very much like tempura).
Actually if you didn't think about it, they pretty much tasted like chicken.
I would've enjoyed the feast quite a lot if I wasn't still so shaken up over what just happened. The rice and cucumber were the only two dishes I was comfortable eating.
We left Le Mat feeling disturbed and a little strange in the stomach. This definitely isn't something we'd like to repeat again. But one thing for sure, that was one helluva experience.
At least for once, we can now tell people that we had snakes for snacks.
Before I end this entry, I think I probably owe some people an explanation as to why I did what I did in my last video.
It's always easy to condemn when you don't understand. So please, put down your pitchforks and listen to what I have to say.
I'm not gonna lie. A big reason why I did it was because I was curious about it.
I've read about the Vietnamese snake-eating habits on Lonely Planet, travel blogs, and even AirAsia's inflight magazine. Only after my conversation with the German expat we met on the boat that I decided to explore it. We're in Vietnam, and this is after all a once in a lifetime chance.
Curiousity killed the snake.
A second reason why I did it was to challenge my fear of eating something outside my comfort zone. Even back in Kuching where dishes like duck tongues and frog legs are common, I'd be too chicken to try it.Gimme chicken anytime.
You can ask naeboo. She served me bat meat once and I ran away screaming like a girl.
I can understand why people are upset. Because let's face it, that video was damn sick. In fact, I would have been even more disturbed if people did not get angry at me.
A lot of people was upset because they thought it was animal cruelty. They assumed the snake was alive when it was cut open. If the heart was still beating, it must still be alive, right?
Like I said, it's easy to condemn when you don't understand.
The proven medical truth is the cobra was killed instantly by the first incision to the throat. Veterinary students can correct me if I'm wrong, but when the blood supply to the brains were shut, the animal would be dead too quick for it to register any pain. There was no torture. There was no slow painful death. It was HUMANE.
This method of slaughtering is also similar to how Halal meat is prepared. Killing the snake that way was no less inhumane than the slaughtering of cows or chickens that contributed to your daily diet.
Slaughtering of chickens the non-Halal way is even worse.
Some said I shouldn't blogged about it.
Come on, I have already toned down A LOT over the past 2 years to cater to people's criticisms and sensitivities. At least let me have my freedom to blog at my own blog. Any further restrictions and I might have to rename my blog notkennysiadotcombutkennysiapunyareaderpunyablog.com.
Then you're gonna have fun typing my URL.
Some accused me of being a hypocrite because I had cobras for lunch on one hand, while on the other hand I support Honda-WWF's Save Our Sumatran Rhinos campaign.
How can you compare cobras with Sumatran Rhinos?
One is a common animal that is farmed, bred and reared on site specifically for human consumption. The other is an endangered animal that roams in the wild and suffers losses of habitat due to deforestation.
One is legal to own. The other is not.
I did not eat a Sumatran Rhino. I ate cobra.
Cobras are not endangered in Vietnam. So how am I contradicting myself?
The only aspect about the whole thing that made me feel uncomfortable was watching the cobra killed in front of me. That is why I said I don't condone it.
As a matter of principle, I try not to consume any living creature have to die immediately before cooking. For that reason, I seldom eat at Chinese seafood restaurants where they take live fish or prawns out from the aquarium tanks and cook it to order.
Of course, I make exceptions during rare cases. Eating the cobra heart was a once-in-lifetime-thing for me. Having done it already, I can tell you that it tasted nothing special. For that price, it ain't worth it. So decide for yourself whether or not you wanna try.
I'd like my critics to answer me honestly if they have never been guilty of eating at live seafood restaurants before.
Just because they killed the fish and prawns alive in the kitchen doesn't make it anymore humane, correct? Or was it a case of "ignorance is bliss"?
Then finally there are those who said what I did was wrong eventhough the cobra is not endangered, is reared like a chicken, and is killed in the most humane way possible.
They wanted me to convert into vegetarian.
I've got nothing against vegetarians. If you think eating meat from any type of animal is cruel, then kudos to you.
But what I hate MOST are vegetarians who think they are better than me, just because they like to eat their stupid soy and tofu.
I know you think eating chickens and pigs and snakes are cruel.
But for the love of me, I cannot imagine eating Big Mac without meat.
Kueh Chap without pork.
KOLO MEE WITHOUT CHAR SIO!
This is also a form of animal cruelty. It's called Kennysia-cruelty.
I might as well just die.