Canines still on the menu in Vietnam

Dog's up ... there's more than one way to eat man's best friend.
Dog's up ... there's more than one way to eat man's best friend. Photo: Alamy

You don't often see a dog spit-roasted in polite company, let alone eat it.

But it's too late to back out of this Vietnamese culinary adventure, at a restaurant called Nam Dinh, as our waitress, Hanh, places a plate of grilled Fido in front of me.

My fellow diner, Yip, is almost salivating as she snares a slice of dog - edged by a thick rind of fat and skin - between her chopsticks, dunks it in a small bowl of chilli, lemon and shrimp paste, and bites into it.

She pauses mid-chew as I struggle to give my dog the Heart Foundation's tick of approval by pulling the fat off.

"You must eat the fat to get the flavour," she scolds, fishing another slice of dog off the plate.

It's late afternoon in Ho Chi Minh City, before the dinner rush, but the restaurants lining Nguyen Trai in District 1 are doing a brisk trade in chargrilled canine.

Dog meat is more commonly eaten in the north of Vietnam, but there's no shortage of customers on this eat street.

Scooters and children compete for space on the narrow road, barely giving the dog that's spread-eagled over a sawn-off 44-gallon drum filled with coals a second glance.

It's about the size of a kelpie and bears an uncanny resemblance to the star of Red Dog, if it's related to the live dog that's foolishly loitering in the street.

But everyone inside the restaurant pauses to watch me take my first bite, which I chew very slowly as every canine companion I've ever had trots across my thoughts and gives my face a sloppy lick.

The meat is tough, dry and gamey, reminding me of overcooked kangaroo. But it costs only 60,000 dong, or $2.75 - the price of a cheap tin of pet food - and tastes far better washed down with beer.

The chef, meanwhile, slowly rotates the skewered dog to ensure it crisps evenly.

There's more than one way to eat man's best friend, and the glass case beside the chef shows off some of his finest dishes. A long coil of what looks like blood sausage tightly wound on a plate sits next to what looks like lamb medallions and steamed rolls.

The menu offers even more body parts, including tail, paw and the chef's signature hotpot for 80,000 dong. Nam Dinh doesn't offer a canine antipasti, but Hanh offers to create one so I can taste more from the menu.

A gnarled old woman sitting nearby catches my eye. She beckons me to her table, picks up a piece of meat and pokes it into my mouth.

Yip tells me it's stomach as I try to chew without letting it graze my taste buds.

My feeder watches me swallow and gives me the thumbs up, demanding approval.

"Ngon," I say, mangling the Vietnamese word for delicious so it sounds as though I'm about to hawk her meat back in her face.

At a table nearby, a group of young men and women sit watching their hotpot bubble away, the soup and vegetables drawing in the flavour of the hind leg floating in the broth.

Our mixed grill finally arrives and, with it, a revelation. I leave the stomach and tail to Yip's more sophisticated palate and tuck into dog minced with green beans and onions and wrapped in a leaf. It's smoky and tender.

The grilled ribs flavoured with cinnamon, are similarly tender and, dare I say it, delicious.

But, typically, our eyes are too big for my tummy and we manage to empty only half our plates.

Yip asks for a doggy bag, explaining how much her elderly neighbour will appreciate it.

My friend at the next table, clearly impressed by my voracious appetite for canine, comes to our table, strokes my beard and tells Yip that I'm handsome.

Eating dog has certainly helped someone's libido.

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