Ask me 3 years ago if I could have imagined shopping in a back alley street market with Vietnamese housewives, and I’d have laughed in your face. Never say never. Here I am shopping with the real housewives of Vietnam in a back alley, and I absolutely love the experience. The fresh fruits and vegetables are a tasty souvenir of these colorful adventures, and cooking my exotic finds is a seriously fun hobby.
But the meats I see festering in their unrefrigerated glory really make me wonder half tongue in cheek and half seriously what the (choose your favorite expletive) is this. I am sure the fish flopping around on the sidewalk or the live chicken hanging upside have a few choice words coming out of their mouths, too. Do animals make it across the border to Laos and think thank God I am away from a place that eats my ears, steams me whole inside a beer can, and savors stir fries of my slimy innards?
Meats of dubious street market origin fermenting in this heat that makes summer in Houston look like a cold Minnesota winter day are banned from my home. About all I will buy are live prawns since they have not yet begun their slow swim towards e. coli. I am just not ready to scale a fish in my kitchen sink or let the blood out of a live chicken in my living room either. The meats in my building’s grocery store have that dried out, dark brown freezer burn sheen so they are out. Of course decent albeit expensive cuts of edible animal products can be found at western specialty shops, but they are not located right in my backyard within walking distance.
So of course as with anything in Vietnam, necessity breeds ingenuity, and substitutions become the norm. To fill this void in step those strange vegan “meats” I once thought were the domain of Prius driving Californians, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Now I am able to eat snails, chicken, and even my latest find, pork kidneys at home, all available in hermetically sealed packages from Au Lac’s grocery store at 237 Xo Viet Nghe Tinh in Binh Thanh District.
Yes, vegetarian pork kidneys. I love that foods too scary in real life for consumption are now just a plant based imitation away. It’s like all the pleasures without the skittishness of ingesting items just beyond my palate’s limitations. I ripped open a bag of these “kidneys” with their hot dog texture, stink, and taste, and sautéed them with onion, shallot, blue ginger, garlic, and some spicy vegetarian fish sauce based nuoc cham. The result was decently savory, or maybe that was just hunger pains talking.
These vegan chunks of meat formed out of konjac powder, whatever that is, exude a sponginess definitely an acquired taste. It’s not bad really, and I will eat this stuff again in the absence of real meat.