Day 215: Snake Eye Serves Beating Heart in Blood Vodka
A number one sends the heart my way. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
FOUR out of the five of us sitting around the table at Nguye Van Duc restaurant in the Snake Village outside of Hanoi are contenders for the heart.
We've selected numbers and established five and six as re-rolls.
Four years ago, on my first motorcycle adventure, I'd come to a different restaurant for snake and lost a coin flip for the heart; I was stuck with the bile duct.
A few minutes from Hanoi, across the Red River, is the Snake Village, which is nothing like a village, but rather a suburb of the city. Here, there are the better part of a dozen restaurants specializing in snake dishes.
A man wearing galoshes stretches a live King Cobra out in front of us. My riding buddy, Callum, has made it down in time to join Leh and two American girls she knows for a six-course snake lunch.
Last time I had snake, our waiter presented the reptile to as if it were an excellent bottle of French wine. This time, the man holds the snake out to us with a brooding, impatient face. The snake's hood flares out, though it makes no attempt to bite the man casually holding it by the tail. There's something too majestic about the cobra for the girls to digest.
It's swung by the tail in a giant arc back into the cage after making a lackadaisical attempt at escaping.
How would you select a snake to dine on? Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Another snake, this one smaller and generic looking, is presented to us next to the snake cages in the cobblestone parking lot.
The open-air restaurant on the second floor of the building overlooks an ornate parking area, cluttered with twisted Bonsai trees, shrubs and tiny statues. At the far side, the doors to a prayer room hang open, revealing the orange tips of incense burning at the family shrine.
This snake is too generic to draw sympathy from the girls.
We give the executioner a nod. He flicks the snake's head against the cage. There's a dull thunk as its skull is cracked.
The snake's neck is held taught over an empty water glass. A sharp knife drawn across its neck sends blood squirting into the container, which will be topped up with vodka for us to drink with our meal
A whole snake can feed a family, but if you're a big group, why not get two? Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
With the blood drained, the rest of the head is cleanly sliced off and tossed away. It will be the only part of the snake that goes to waste. The rest of the snake, including the bones and skin, will be used for our six-course meal.
The snake, seemingly unaware of having lost its head, writhes on the ground, tangling itself into knots and untangling itself as electrical pulses in its body continue to fire off, causing the muscles to contract.
We are re-seated up stairs with starched napkins placed on our laps. The restaurant is busy, but only half full. If running at full capacity, it could easily sit 75 more more clients – snake is a popular dish in this part of town.
A waiter brings us the vodka-thinned snake blood and a small saucer. The snake's beating heart thumps away on the tiny plate moving the liquid around it in varying shades of red.
Everyone willing to eat the still beating heart with their shot of blood selects a number on the die.
Ever since losing the coin flip four years ago, I'd looked forward to returning to Vietnam for the heart of a snake. However, at this point my chance of popping the tiny blood throbber into my mouth is 25 percent, significantly less than last time.
The die bounces on the table, landing with a single pip facing up. It's halfway to rolling snake eyes. A snake wink if you will.
I'm number one.
The heart is mine.