When Food Fights Back: Eating Iguana on Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh Trail

I jabbed at Bob with the tip of my knife. “Are you okay?”

Bob did not move.

The beautiful Vietnamese waitress standing next to me giggled and gracefully ran her hands down the silk ao dai tightly hugging her svelte curves. “Bob cannot hear,” she said. “He is prepared for you.”

In one swift motion, she grabbed the iguana off the table and sliced him into eight pieces.

I stared at Bob’s dismembered legs, torso, head, and tail as they landed gently on a bed of salad greens.

She turned her gaze toward me, brought her long, slender fingers to her mouth, and coquettishly rolled her eyes as if to say, “Oops, did I do that?” On her way back to the kitchen, she paused, turned around, and mouthed the words, “Bon appetite.”

Chris looked stunned. In the two weeks we had been traveling together through the Mekong Delta, that expression of bewilderment and expectation never quite completely left his face. It gave the impression that he was about to say something really important, but never got around to it.

We had met when I pulled up to a roadside food stand near Ho Chi Minh City. While he waited for his bus, I chowed down on pho and listened as he explained that he was writing articles about exotic dishes for his college newspaper in Quebec. “I’ve heard they eat grilled rat, roasted sparrows, and bird’s nest soup in the Mekong,” he whispered in the conspiratorial tone of an alien abductee describing cavity probes.

“You had me at grilled rat,” I said. “Screw your bus, ride with me!”

On my small moped, Don Efraín Quixote and Sancho Chris Panza set out in search of culinary adventures.

Co-traveling on a moped was challenging. When he would get on my nerves, I threatened to leave him in the next village, but then he would look through his book of handwritten notes and say something along the lines of, “I think the next village serves snake bile in rice wine.”

“Snake bile in rice wine, you say?” I would ask, my mouth watering. “Fine, we’ll stick together until the next village but then we’re parting ways for sure.”

And so it went for two weeks. On our way back to Ho Chih Minh City, I got a tip on a secret restaurant. It was hard to understand my source’s accent, but I think she said they served horse penis. “Make you strong,” she said, bending her arm upward at the elbow while eying my crotch.

We followed her directions to the restaurant.

“We’re here for special food,” I told the waitress who came to our table.

“Ah! I understand,” she said with a smirk. “Follow me.”

She led us through a door and down what I thought was a very narrow, long hallway. Behind me, I felt Chris tugging at my shirt. “Look up,” he whispered. I looked up and saw the moon; we were in an alley.

We arrived at a locked door. From the other side we could hear shrieks, barks, and howls. The waitress turned around and with a grin slowly asked, “Are you sure?”

Chris and I nodded.

She unlocked the door and we stepped in. My stupefied look matched Chris’s.

“Where are we?” I asked. “Is this a pet shop?”

“It is your menu,” she giggled.

Tanks, cages, pens, and crates containing creatures I had only seen in magazines filled the small room.

Chris and I deliberated on what we should order. “Iguanas aren’t endangered,” I reasoned. Pointing at the feistiest iguana, I told the waitress, “We’ll take that one. And we’ll name him Bob.”

That night Bob got his revenge. Between the explosions erupting from multiple orifices of my body, I writhed naked on the shower floor of my dingy hotel room. When the cold chills got to be too much, I would turn on the hot water and let it wash over me until I lost consciousness once again.

Eventually, my dry heaves and groans woke up my neighbor. He knocked on my door and yelled something in Vietnamese. I wrapped a towel around my waist and hobbled over to crack the door open. The tiny, old man burst into my room past me with surprising agility and quickly scooped out goop from a small jar. Before I could stop him, he began rubbing it underneath my bellybutton so vigorously that the towel loosened and fell to the floor.

I stood there naked, wet, and woozy; too consumed with fighting back an imminent bowel eruption to fend off the decrepit, vibrating hand.

That’s when I heard the ungodly sound coming from behind me. It took me a moment to realize it was a human shriek. “What the hell!” Chris yelled in horror, from the doorway. “Is there nothing you won’t try!!!”

Eating iguana, Vietnam, exotic food, aimless vagabond, delicious, gross, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh, Food poisoning, Mekong

Eating Iguana in Vietnam

Note to reader: eating iguana in Vietnam is a eat at your own risk proposition.

Aimless Vagabond

Aimless Vagabond

Efraín Villa, the Aimless Vagabond, is an optimist, cynic, and lover of contradiction. He's also a photographer, actor, and global wanderer whose endless quest for randomness has led him to colorful roles as tourism marketing director for the great state of New Mexico, pharmaceutical salesman of vaginal cream, professional fondling recipient at med schools (AKA standardized patient), trainer in police shooting simulations, and “pseudo intoxicated patron” in federal liquor licensing studies. He has traveled, lived, worked, and volunteered in more than 50 countries in five continents. While not running his consulting firm in Albuquerque, he is busy avoiding adulthood while wearing the least amount of clothes possible... usually in far away countries. Oh, also, he writes.
Aimless Vagabond

16 Responses to “When Food Fights Back: Eating Iguana on Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh Trail

  • Jen Morrow
    5 years ago

    eww, I do not think I could join you for these meals. I would go vegetarian on this trip!

    • Fortunately, Vietnam has plenty of vegetarian options as well. I think it’s best enjoyed through an omnivore’s curiosity, though. Is bird’s nest soup vegetarian?

  • just discover this site from somewhere. great sharing story & experiences. i will recommend this site to my friends out there.

  • This had my laughing!!!! I like the way you roll, though I’m sure i would have been writhing on the floor right there with you!

  • This is great! I lived in Vietnam for a long time but never had the courage to really seek out the weirdest food there. Although, after your iguana experience I’m not sure I’d want to! And thank you for not eating anything endangered!

  • OMG! I don’t know whether to laugh or be horrified so I’m a bit of both! I’m an adventurous eater but I don’t think I could try iguana…especially if I saw him alive beforehand. Sucks that you got food poisoning after all of that! But LOL quite a story!

  • Lol ? love this story. Life is all about the little moments. I’m imagining iguana tasting like alligator so i would try it!

    • Yeah, although I remember alligator being much more akin to a white fish. It’s been a long time, though. Thanks for reading the story!

  • How have I only just discovered your blog?! Your stories are really interesting and funny and appropriately disturbing. I don’t consider myself a picky eater (although I am consciously trying to eat less meat nowadays – thanks, climate change), but I draw the line at practically everything you mentioned above, haha. And they say we Chinese eat everything…

    • I don’t know, but I’m really glad you did discover it. Thank you for reading, sharing, etc.!

      I have a high regard for adventurous palates, which is probably why I need to try to get to China as soon as possible. If it’s anything like Vietnam, I’m gonna be in weird food heaven.

      Despite climate change, I still eat meat… Which I would feel bad about if bacon weren’t so impossible to resist. I’m helpless in its presence.

      Once again, thanks for the message.

  • You have an awesome blog with interesting travel stories.Anyway I cant imagine of eating iguana in Vietnam or anywhere else! 🙂

    • Thank you very much for the compliment. I’m glad you are enjoying the travel stories.

      Maybe starting with iguana is too intimidating. Perhaps beating snake heart is more to your liking?

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