A chicken got the chop and not one bit of bird went by the wayside, bar the feathers and the odd bits that I couldn't swallow and hid from view under a crumpled tissue.
I was invited to a mate's country home for lunch the other Saturday, right after my aforementioned amble around the hat market. His sister-in-law was busying herself in the kitchen, a brick shed across the courtyard from the house. Green tea and fags got passed about among the menfolk, a custom I can only partake in by halves. Refusing a choker makes me fell less a man but they don't realise all of the other vices I have to manage...eating like Porky Pig, for one!
A generous spread got slid onto the rattan floor mats around which we all sat. The meal appeared to be sponsored by Heinneken, with little green cans situated all about us. It was before 11am and the prospect of being pissed by half eleven weighed on my mind. In addition to not smoking, my masculinity would have been in tatters had I abstained from drinking copious quantities of lager too. I vowed to drink to the death.
It proved to be a wise decision as, for a texture fraidy-cat like me, the gynormous plate of tripe (xach bo) that confronted me would require a kind of alcohol fueled mental strength. The pretty slices of starfruit did nought to soften the appearance and likely gag activation to come. If it takes more than one chew through, I know I'm in strife. I braced myself by toasting and downing a couple of large glasses of beer.
And then I went for the chicken chunks. Procrastination is a trait of mine.
My mate's mum, a gorgeous smiling old dear completely addicted to chewing betel nut, threw back her daily glass of the local beer. I followed suit and then started picking around the edges of the spikey bits of animal internals, chopsticking the yellow stars and spring onions into my mouth. Now that's brave! I asked for the pumpkin leaves and stems (rau bi) to be passed at this point. We'd purchased these at the local market earlier and I wanted to see if the rural produce was better than that available in Hanoi's markets. A further postponement of the inevitable mouthful of chewy stuff.
Followed by more beer!
The rice cooker was unplugged and the white grain was dealt to our bowls. The meal was nearing its end and my time was nigh. The betel nut tin was out, leaves and lime paste being prepared, a fix on the way. Two opposing forces were colliding: my strong aversion to scary food textures and my mate's mum's addiction to the areca. She wrapped her nut quarter as I folded a tripe flap around some hot rice. Hands went to mouths in unison. Intoxication was in the air; hers a glazed over pair of eyes, mine a frightened mastication pushing the wrong buttons on my gag activator. Deep questions were asked for a second or two.
And then I swallowed.