We arrive in the small village; it quiet and we are big news. We are ushered into a cavern of a restaurant and brought drinks. A nice table is set out for me to film on under a large tree with creepers growing all over it. Tuong explains to the restaurant what we want to film and we settle down. We are shown the snakes, mostly Cobras, with some White Jungle snakes.
I have to add here all the snakes are breed in captivity by the restaurant and are kept and treated extremely well. As are the other items such as duck, pigeons, a sort of porcupine and huge lizards.
I sit down at the table and get ready; not expecting what was to happen next. There is a slight commotion behind me and as I look around one of the waiting staff produce a large snake from a bag for me to look at and see if I'm happy.
Its a Cobra, and a mighty fine one at that. I'm stunned for a few seconds and gesture to the man I'm happy, really happy.....in a please can you take it away from me sharpish manner. He nods at the snake is placed back into the large cotton bag and off he went. This gives me time to reflect on what has just happened. Let's just recap, I have just been a few inches from one of the world's deadliest snakes and in a few minutes I will be eating it.
Snake here is an important protein in everyday Vietnamese life and has been for centuries. Its healthy, available and very good for you, apart from the venom of course. Every part of the snake is used even the skin and bones.
We start the seven course meal with a thickened snake and mushroom soup. Its good and full of flavour very similar to the chicken and sweetcorn soup you get in a good Chinese restaurant. I like it. Next we have snake meat chopped finely and mixed with some herb and wrapped Betel leaves and fried, like small rolls, they too are delicious.
Swiftly followed by a sort of snake stir fry with a Vietnamese fungus and vegetables.
Bar b q morsels next with a spicy, salty coating, then a small bowl of poached meat with small beans and vinegar in a good stock.
The skin is scaled and deep fried and served with a dipping sauce of sharp lime, salt and fresh chilli.
Finally sticky corn rice, a sort of fine rice porridge with peanuts, the deep fried snake bones sprinkled on crispy rice crackers and rice paper filled rolls with chopped snake, Lizard tail (a green vegetable with a fishy flavour) ginger and soy. Wow what a meal we were stuffed, but every part of the reptile used, including the beating heart, blood and bile. The latter mixed with rice wine to make more palatable.
We clamber back into the bus, full of snake and looking back and discussing what a day we have had so far. But not for long as we had a date at another restaurant later in the afternoon for some even more exotic foods.
Highway 4 owner Dan has been working in Vietnam for 14 years. He started out life living in rural Bucks, before training as an English teacher. From there lived in Russia and Sri Lanka then finally settling down here. He's an engaging character, thick set, shaved head and with earrings in both ears. He looks kinda scary, but with a big smile.
We were here to eat insects, yes insects. The restaurant is famous for its insect/reptilian offerings and they come in many forms, shapes and flavours.
We start by filming in the very clean kitchen as Dan chats through what we have on offer and what we are about to eat.
Locusts, crickets, silkworm larvae, sand worms and scorpions are all on the menu. Dan tells me to pick up a scorpion that's trying to make a run for it. I ask if its poisonous first, he smiles and does not answer. I ask again, again he smiles and says 'No its not' I pick and place it back in the bowl. He then chats to his head chef in fluent and very impressive. He then says quietly 'Oh by the way they are poisonous' I do go cold for a second or two. Tuong chips in 'They won't kill you too much' I nervously laugh and he explains it could make you ill but we have a medicine to cure it. Well that's reassuring then I think. JD director, has a fit and looks at me, I smile and we carry on.
I watch his executive chef and his staff chop, prepare and cook all the insects with calm, precise skill, its very impressive.
We retire back to the restaurant where I finish my piece to camera tasting the dishes all washed down with Dan's local apple liquor. The scorpions are quite tough to crack through, and have a peculiar flavour. The flesh from the claws is soft and reminds me of a soft lobster consistency.
The locusts are crisp and delicious, fried quickly with a little added salted pork fat. Salted and spiced quite highly they are really good. The crickets are the same in taste and crunch, but are slightly more meaty, finished with chunks of lime zest.
The silkworm larvae are coated in what looks like cornflour and quickly fried then added to many other ingredients. These are like eating small capsules of thick chicken soup that explode in your mouth, when eaten and are surprisingly good. The sand worms make a tasty omelette/tortilla and are very meaty, something a former SAS man had told me some years ago.
Overall I really enjoyed the insect experience, and would do it again. Even after my short time here what I'm beginning to realise is that the Vietnamese waste absolutely nothing when it comes to preparing and cooking food. As Tuong says to me 'Freshness is that important to them they will go to the market twice a day to ensure the food is in peak condition'
We head back to the hotel, passing by a bar set high above a busy intersection to film the organised mayhem below.