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Hanoi's 'Snake Village': Dining at Nguyen Van Duc



Hanoi (CNN) – Hungry parties can order the cobra, but diners with more moderate appetites will probably want to choose a smaller snack from Nguyen Van Duc, and a popular restaurant in Le Mat – aka "Snake Village. "

This quiet, residential neighborhood in Hanoi, Vietnam, is famous for offering cuisine centered around slithery reptiles, and 20-year veteran Nguyen Van Duc is one of the most popular for first-timers and locals alike.

Medicinal properties

Van Duc manager Nguyen Hoang Long, who oversees the sprawling property, tells CNN Travel the village has been catching and breeding snakes for about 200 years.

After seating a group of twentysomething backpackers , he explains the history of snakes in Vietnamese cuisine, he said it all started with blood.

"In ancient times, villagers used this [snake blood] to heal headaches," says Long, adding that the snake was, another healing agent, good for sore throats and "bone problems."

Long is vague on the details surrounding proper dosage and consumption, but under its watch diners are not so much consuming snake for its ability to cure ailments as they are for the adrenaline rush ̵

1; and a story to tell back home.

Cage-to-table

 07 snake village Hanoi

Courses are served family style and the entire snake is used to create various dishes on offer.

Diana Diroy

For locals , snake is familiar and expected, a natural part of their diet. For foreigners, it's perhaps the ultimate foodie thrill ride.

Van Duc's snake dishes draw on Vietnamese culture and flavors – helpful and getting fearful diners to give it a try. The intrepid traveler preparing to taste a snack for the first time may be comforted by the familiar aroma and taste of fresh basil, fish sauce and garlic.

However, this does not apply to the fresh snake heart, a one-bite dish reserved for a truly adventurous, non-squeamish eater.

The Van Duc dishes are served family style and significantly more palatable. . There's no printed menu and restaurant staff speak limited English so can't explain much about the cooking styles.

But use your nose and you'll get a whiff of chilies and coriander while the dishes are cooked in a hot, oil-coated wok smells smoky and rich.

Interactive dining

 05 snake village Hanoi

Snake sauteed with morning glory is one of the restaurant's most popular dishes.

Diana Diroy

The menu-free experience at Van Duc means diners get to choose which snake is going to end up on their table.

There's no rule that says you have to watch the snake meet its timely death, but many choose to witness the expert handler navigate his way around the slithering, hissing creature.

Once the snake is cut and killed it's ushered into The vast kitchen, where it's chopped, sliced ​​and ground, its bones pulverized, and its skin cut into strips for a quick fry.

However, snake consumption is not without controversy. Animal welfare groups have been called out of practice as inhumane.

From blood to bili

 Lemongrass, an ingredient found in many traditional Vietnamese meals, shows up in a few snack dishes at Van Duc.

Lemongrass, an ingredient found in many traditional Vietnamese meals , shows up in a few snack dishes at Van Duc.

Stacey Lastoe / CNN

The entire snake is used to create a plethora of dishes – a cobra at Van Duc can feed about 6-8 people for $ 60.

Snake spring rolls are filled with ground reptile meat and served piping hot after spending a minute in a sizzling oil-filled wok. These are tasty, fresh with herbs found in all Vietnamese cuisine.

There's also snake meat wrapped in la lot leaves, and kind of green that's not bitter nor bland

Long says one of the most popular dishes is sauteed snake meat – maybe because its texture is the closest thing to poultry or pork – though he maintains that snake can't really be likened to either.

It can also be poisonous. Long admits guests sometimes express apprehension about this.

"We tell them truthfully that, from the beginning until now, there have been no cases of allergic reactions or poisonings after eating snakes," he says.

Long then smiles, gestures around the leafy green outdoor terrace where boisterous backpackers are coaxing their buddy to eat the raw heart, and says guests trust the restaurant.

"The snake meat is very special," he says.

To get there, rent a motorbike yourself or take a taxi to Nguyen Van Duc, about a 15-20 minute ride from the center of town.

Nguyen Van Duc, 16 Viet Hung, Long Bien, Hanoi, Vietnam; +84 24 3652 0788

This feature has been updated to acknowledge the ethical concerns of snake consumption.


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