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Weird and 'wonderful' food in Hoi An

I'm fairly open-minded with food and will try most things once, but there are a few things I just know I never, ever want to put in my mouth. Or so I thought. Today I ate something that I never thought would pass my lips. But let’s build up to that, like I had to. 

As part of a market tour and cooking class I did in Hoi An, we were given the opportunity to sample a number of dishes at Vy’s Market Restaurant, which is basically a posh version of a street food market geared towards westerners. That doesn’t mean they dumb down the food; if anything, in an effort to educate foreigners they go to great lengths to provide all manner of dishes from around the country.

They let us in gently with some lovely tasters, such as these gorgeous bahn cuon, which are like a mini-version of bahn xeo (rice-flour pancake). Slightly thicker, they were crispy on the outside, soft and juicy in the centre and studded with little pieces of pork, chives and a crispy prawn.

Then it was time to hit the ‘Weird and Wonderful’ section. Weird definitely. Wonderful, not entirely. Don’t get me wrong – there were some good bits. These river snails with chilli and lemongrass were fantastic:

They were huge with a meaty texture more like hake or monkfish than the chewy, bogey type things that the French love. (I like escargot, but mainly because they are a vehicle for shit loads of garlic butter, I don’t think they have a whole lot of flavour). Like their little cousins, they are also a great vehicle for the sauce they are in and lemongrass and chilli are two of my favourite Asian ingredients, so they topped my list.

I liked the frog legs and the offal was pretty good too, but both mostly tasted of the rich, salty stew they were a part of. No surprises there.

Things deteriorated when I moved onto pig’s brain. I actually love brains done well. The best I’ve ever had were at Chez Bruce – deep-fried and served with sauce gribiche – they were so smooth and creamy I felt like I was eating a deep-fried ball of mozzarella. These brains, on the other hand, were less creamy, more slimy and without any redeeming features, such as a nice crispy coating or delicious sauce. Just slimy, gooey brains, pure and simple.

Next up, silkworm salad. I think this is actually one of the worst things I have ever put in my mouth. I mean the salad was great – a typical Vietnamese salad of raw, crunchy vegetables with fresh herbs, a sweet and salty nuoc mam dressing and a hint of spice. I just don’t understand why anyone would want to eat a silkworm.

I don’t know if you have ever seen a silkworm, but they are bumpy little creatures. When you put them in your mouth each little bump pops individually as you chew. Pop-mush-pop-mush-pop-mush-pop! I can’t really remember what it tasted like. I was trying very hard not to gag as I felt each part of its body explode in my mouth.

After this textural experience, I couldn’t stomach the jellyfish salad, but I did try the duck embryo – said dish that I thought I would never EVER eat in my lifetime. And you know what? It was actually fine. It just tasted like egg with a few crunchy bits. I'd recommend it over silkworm anyday.

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