It is much later in the evening when we venture into town for dinner. It seems we've waited a bit too long, as everything is closed—except one dimly lit wooden shack. While inspecting the buffet dishes outside, I notice the plate of deep fried rats! All claws and sharp pointy teeth, they look like the wicked witch of the west when Dorothy threw water on her. I can almost hear the shrill squeals.
"Ohhh what a world, what a world!"
After we've gotten over the novelty/gross-out factor of seeing deep fried rats, Natasha notices something odd in one of the white ceramic dishes next to them. There is a pearly white jawbone floating in some thoroughly awful looking, nondescript brown stew.
"Is that?" "….no, it can't be!" "It has to be, what else could it be!?"
We all know exactly what is floating in that dish, but none of us wants to believe it. When we ask the woman running the place, she confirms our suspicions, replying nonchalantly, "Oh, that's dog." At this point, we've all sort of lost our appetites, but we sit down to have a drink anyway. After the initial disgust factor wears off, I go with a safe choice of sticky rice and chicken.
We've made it about halfway through our bottle of Beer Lao when Natasha decides she's going for it. Having a canine feast in Vitenam was originally part of all our plans, but none of us followed through with the off-putting cultural experience. Now, when there isn't too much time to weigh the pros and cons, Natasha is diving in head first without looking back.
…and just for good measure we throw in a rat.Natasha
Per our request, the lady serves us a very small bowl of dog stew. Then, in a move that reminds me of a friendly butcher we met in Tunisia, she takes the whole deep fried rat, and unceremoniously hacks it to bits on a hefty chopping block with a gnarly looking cleaver. When she is done making rat-nuggets, she sweeps them on to a plate for us with a bit of dipping sauce.
All of us (except Tara, who is being an uncharacteristically unadventurous eater lately) trepidatiously wince and cringe our way through a cautious first bite of dog stew. To our anti-climatic surprise, it tastes like meat. Honestly, it tastes pretty good, but delicious our not, a lifetime of western culture norms prevent us from ordering a second bowl of fido.
Bolstered by the fact that we are well out of our comfort zones already, the rat comes next. Unlike the dog, it is gamey and disgusting—just how I might have imagined a rat tastes, if I'd ever wondered such a thing. Gross. Another set of classic Natasha pictures captures our response to the experience better than words can:
While eating, we're befriended by a really sweet guy named Kong, who comes over to talk to us and practice his English. We tell him to help himself to the rat, and he does so with gusto. As he munches on barbecued rodent brains, a pair of live rats scurry along a shelf on the wall behind him, and Kong he tells us to story so that we may give him our opinion. He's serious, deep in thought, and clearly anguished about the choices at hand.
He goes on to tell us in great detail the particulars about a Liberian variant of advanced-fee fraud, better known as a "Nigerian Scam". In his version, there is girl from Liberia who emailed him from a refugee camp looking for financial help to get millions of inherited dollars out of a foriegn bank account, of which he will receive some percentage for the assistance. She just needs him to send his bank account information, that would really help…
As he tells the story, we're wide-eyed, mouths open, quick to interject.
Tara "She's lying!"
Pete "She's lying!"
Tyler "She's lying!"
Natasha "She's lying!"
All of us "You didn't actually give her access to your bank account did you?!"
Kong "Well, yes, I did, but… there's no money in it."
In an instant we go from horrified that our apparently gullible and innocent new friend is being scammed for all of his hard earned money, to laughing relief. Then, we council him to stop emailing back and forth with this person, that it is a scam, and not to give out his information. Kong nods knowingly at our wise council, as if we're affirming his secret hunch.
Kong "I know. I think maybe she lie me."
And then, he tells us another tale, one that makes his eyes all glassy. See, his cousin wasn't allowed to marry the woman he loved because both sets of parents wouldn't agree to the marriage. So, last week, they both poisoned and killed themselves. He's not nearly as blown away by this story as we are, saying that it has happened many times before.
Kong "Does this happen where you are from?"
We're all stunned, unsure how to process what he has described, unable to reconcile a culture where couples follow through with suicide pacts if their parents disapprove of them marrying. We tell him that no, this doesn't happen in America. For the most part, kids in the United States marry whoever they please, whether their parents disapprove or not. He seems comforted by this knowledge.
Eventually, Kong has to go. Now, it's just the four of us and the cat we've been taking turns holding. We've finished our sticky rice and chicken, and Kong polished off the rat, but there is a little dog left that none of us will eat. While we enjoy the last few swigs of our beer, Pete has an idea.
Pete says "You know…. it would be really awesome if we fed the cat some dog."
Without a second thought Tara does the deed. It gobbles it up and I swear I see a sinister little smile cross its whisker adorned lips and can almost hear it laugh diabolically and say “Ohhhh the irony….."Natasha