Last summer I found myself with my mom at a supermarket in Ha Noi, Vietnam staring disgustedly at a box of maggots for sale. I vowed never ever to eat one. 48 hours later I was sitting at dinner, maggot in chopstick mimicking the 12 other people in my host family and running out of excuses that they would understand given the communication barrier. We were trekking in the Hoa Binh province and this was our first taste of Vietnam. We sat on a bamboo floor, 10 feet off the ground in a stilt house designed to protect itself from monsoon rain.
So how do you begin to eat a maggot when your head won’t stop screaming at you not to? The chopsticks coil under my twitching fingers and I squish 2 maggots in half before I am successfully able to bring one over from the serving bowl into mine. My tongue hides in my mouth as I place the maggot in, and swallow hard, quickly closing my eyes. When I opened them, Ly – the mother of the household – nodded and kept eating. I also managed to scarf down some fresh rat that had walked the last two hours with us to their house. This was presented in a soup, along with balls of meat bobbing up amongst the noodles. Ly then handed me a thin, leathery duck foot. She started to gnaw on it and gestured for me to do the same. I nibbled, as I brought it to my mouth and pretended to chew on the toes, and then proceeded to hide it underneath my rice. Ly also used all the rest of the duck parts. First the duck’s neck was slit, and the blood spurted like a fountain into the awaiting bowl. Then the feathers were all plucked and put into another bowl next to the potatoes to be used for something I could only imagine. By the time it made it to the table the pieces of meat were cut up into small bite sized pieces and mixed into the duck blood soup. Apparently it is a source of strength. My favorite part of the meal was still the spring rolls Ly taught me how to make.
Our next food adventure also came as a surprise when a week later in Hue our rickshaw driver dropped us off at his favorite place for lunch. There was a long menu but since we couldn’t tell the difference between any of the options he chose for us. It was served on a hot plate and covered in a delicious gravy sauce. When speaking to our guide later that day, I was informed of the delicious mystery meat I had eaten. I enjoyed dog meat for lunch. All of a sudden the dogs we remembered sitting next to us at lunch and puttering around eating the left overs became all the more disturbing.
None of these foods looked any more appetizing than they sounded, but they weren’t as horrible as I originally imagined them to be. By putting my trust in my host family I forced myself to step outside my comfort zone and take risks for the sake of keeping an open mind. At first I ate the foods to avoid offending. As it turned out however, I not only gained the novelty of a new adventure, but also developed a greater confidence in my ability to overcome my first impressions and fully enjoy the flavor of new experiences.
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