Cat on the Table in Vietnam

Many cities in Vietnam have an undeniable old world charm to them. Having been colonized and/or occupied by the Chinese, the French, and the Americans, the character of those eras still linger. This is noticeable even more so inside its cafes and restaurants.

It’s fairly common knowledge (and acknowledged) that Vietnamese cuisine is some of the tastiest (and most unique) in Asia. From pho to bánh mì (sandwiches), the assortment of great foods is enough to make even the most boorish of eaters happy and content.


But Vietnam has had its hard times too. Ravaged by war and political strife, and then left destitute at the end of most each of those times, the Vietnamese had to manage with whatever there was left, and many times that meant eating anything that was within arms’ reach.

In poverty, there’s no such thing as pets… only fair game.

Unfortunately though, old habits don’t die easy. Nor do ways to earn a buck from these habits. So the tradition of snacking on “little tiger” (felis catus, aka cat) over some beer with friends continues on in Vietnam, much to the chagrin of the Western world.

“Drowned, shaved, and burned to remove all fur before being cut up and fried with garlic,” many people want to try cat meat for the “novelty,” according to a manager at a Hanoi restaurant.

The government forbids the consumption of cat, apparently to “keep the capital’s rat population under control,” but demand trumps bureaucracy in many poor Southeast Asia countries, especially when money is involved.

Demand seems to have outstripped supply, though, as a stroll through the streets, courts, and alleys of cities like Hanoi will quickly reveal that there’s nary a cat to be seen anywhere.

Pet owners (if there is such thing in Vietnam) must lock their cats up or leash them with a very tight knot so as not to lose them to thieves. Yes, thieves. Such a high demand and limited supply also creates an atmosphere for smugglers who hustle cats over the border from Thailand and Laos.

Van Dung, manager of a Hanoi restaurant that sells cat, said he’s never had problems from law enforcement, and that he buys from local breeders and “cat traders.” On a good day, the restaurant where Dung works can serve up to 100 hungry customers a day.

“I know in the United States and Britain they don’t eat cat. But here we do,” Nguyen Dinh Tue, 44, said as he chewed on a piece of fried cat meat. He continued, “I don’t kill the cat! But this place sells it so I like to eat it.”

Cat is not the only thing on the menu in Vietnam—dog, insect, rat, snake, and even pigeon brain are all also available. If you can catch it, then eat it, as the saying goes. Poverty is cruel and harsh, especially on eating habits, but when the deep hardship is gone, how long for its proclivities to disappear?

The Japanese have a (semi-)bizarre tradition of eating salted, immature soy beans in the pod (edamame) with beer, but when the alternative is chewing on Hello Kitty over a few pints I guess it seems more than just a bit tame.

Quick takeaway from all this? Don’t drunkenly stumble into any Vietnam cafes and get talked into ordering the “chef’s special.”

H/T: AFP via Tuoitrenews