It isn’t a myth that dog is eaten in Vietnam.
When we first arrived in Hanoi, we were surprised to find that dogs were noticeably absent from the streets. Not at all what you would expect to find in a developing country with a reputation for an overabundance of mangy mutts. We saw only 2 dogs on the first day – a pug wearing a sweater and a gorgeous white Chow. Neither of these were going to be found on a skewer. We even managed to walk through the Old Quarter and eat our pho and the famous rice dumplings at Banh Cuon Gia Truyen (14 Hang Ga) without spying anything out of the ordinary.
But as we drove down the highway the next day toward Halong Bay, we passed a motorbike with a crate of little pigs on the back. Then there was another motorbike toting a crate of chickens. We kept our eyes open, wondering what else would be going to the market. And then we saw them: a crate of golden-haired puppies.
You can be sure that the market was not selling these animals as pets.
When we returned to Hanoi after our visit to Halong Bay, we ventured a few blocks away from the tourist area in search of dinner at a place not recommended by Tony Bourdain. And then, there it was. Hanging in the window of the cart, above the row of crispy-skinned ducks, was a thin, headless creature with four legs. I quickly took a photo, not wanting to stare.
This creature looked more like one of the dogs we later saw roaming the streets scavenging for food as we made our way through the country. These are wild animals searching for nourishment before they are used to provide sustenance to others. Not those cute puppies we saw in the crate. (I wonder where those ended up…)
I’d read on Vice that dogs are skewered and grilled in back alleys, and that the meat was tough like mutton. I figured it would be cut up and not served whole. I suppose this will cheaply feed a family, and for those who are used to eating something out of necessity, it’s no different than picking up a chicken would be to us. But because of the stigma of Western society, tourists are sheltered from the reality of this experience. (Perhaps one of the reasons the group tours push so much good and expensive food on you.) Normally, I’m up for trying what the locals eat, especially if I’ve never had it before. Putting aside the concept of eating a pet (I had a rabbit and chickens as a kid and have no problem eating those), I don’t want to eat something I know won’t taste good — certainly not just for the sake of novelty. And I still can’t fully grasp why anyone would choose to have a tough piece of dog – when everything else is so cheap, tasty and available.
Toward the end of our trip, Ms. “Moon,” our guide through the Mekong Delta, assured us that it was only Catholics that ate dog, and that her people preferred to keep them as pets. There aren’t that many Catholics in Vietnam. But, as it turns out, there are a lot of dogs, and not all of them are being kept as pets.
And so, we did not try dog while we were in Vietnam. When there’s a ton of really good, cheap street food available, there’s no reason to try a skewered puppy.