Our friction with Vietnam wasn’t born of commies or Koreas but the fact that we consider our best friends they consider lunch. And for the first time, into this taboo breach, comes a place where the palefaces can sample the tastiest of doggies right here on Argyle street. So good, the eponymous bag won’t be needed.
One of the funniest phobias in western travel is going out for some pho and getting dog in place of cow. All silliness aside, canine meat is a rare delicacy in Vietnamese cuisine and carries a steep premium in price. The chances of ordering beef (bo) pho and “accidentally” getting fluffy is about as likely as ordering a Whopper and accidentally getting prime rib. Thit Cho (dog) is clearly marked and mightily expensive. So go occupy your neuroses with equally unlikely things like getting in shape next year. However, if you do wish to push the envelope of taste into this forbidden delicacy, you no longer need to go to north Vietnam.
Other than its name, Pho Thit Cho reveals no clues about the tasty tenderness within the traditional-looking storefront. And as a paleface, you would be hard-pressed to see any mention of your furry friends on the menu. Unless, of course, you ask. In Vietnamese. And then, like choosing the red pill, you are plunged headfirst into a rabbit-hole of pure delight. Today’s special was the Afghan Sheepdog which, due to its mix of Afghan Hound and Belgian Sheepdog, does not carry the same price premium as the purebreds. Even so, if the American Bull Mastiff is Cristal, the Afghan Sheepdog is Veuve which was fine for my novice self. Prices are strangely not displayed for specials so don’t be afraid to ask unless you want to be surprised with a 4-figure bill. Tough economic times have caught many former dog-lovers without sufficient funds to care for larger pets so Pho Thit Cho happily pays the market price for poorly-tended animals, fattens them up and processes them with all respect and ritual due them. The kitchen table offers full view of the preparation but the actual kill is performed elsewhere. I guess America is still too squeamish for that little link in the food chain especially since dogs put up quite a fight – nothing like the bovine passivity we see in all the PETA videos.
Pho Thit Cho means literally: dog soup. When ordering the entire animal (suggested for groups of 4 or more) one can choose to have the paws and jawbone cooked in the broth or wok-seared and served alongside. We opted for the latter and nibbled tasty foot-pad meat with generous pours of rice wine. It’s definitely not for the faint of palate but after 6 shots of 50 proof rice wine, you’ll cherish every morsel you can pick from in between the toes. The jaw meat was not as tender as say, hamachi jaw and if you like your pork ribs falling from the meat you definitely won’t like it. I, however, like to gnaw and work for mine and therefore found myself at home.
If sufficient notice is given, the kitchen can create some lovely dog-blood sausage. This is done by stuffing the blood-brain mixture (something so carefully avoided in a vertebrate’s life) back into the dog’s intestinal lining to create a flavor unlike any other you will ever taste. Pork blood sausage is nothing in comparison. Indeed, when tied off with simmered tendons, the snap of the intestinal casing can release a flavor so intense that whatever praise the dog had lacked in life can easily be given in its final moments in the state of matter. A unique take on “hot dog” to be sure.
In conclusion, dog meat is indeed very good. In either pho-style soup, in sausage or wok-seared. It compares to very rare venison and the torched skin reminded me of lean bacon. Don’t let squeamishness stop you from sampling this delicacy. Remember that all earthly creatures are here for our entertainment or consumption. In Vietnam they live in dog farms. Here, rather than be turned loose to starve on the street, they create human jobs and fill human bellies. And I promise you that after enough rice wine, you won’t give two flocks about it. Instead, the next time your friends ask what you did on Friday night, you’ll tell them you took Fluffy for a Wok.