Chim Sẻ Quay Grilled Sparrow – 186 of 365

Grilled Sparrows

Oi zoi oi loosely means oh my God in the northern Vietnamese vernacular.  This is a phrase reverberating all across the rice paddies to describe just about any situation that might arise.  Actually come to think of it, life in Vietnam is one giant oi zoi oi to one extent or another.

A random menu selection led me down a path about as oi zoi oi as the fertile duck egg or black chicken in a can from meals past.  Now that I think about it, I am not sure what delusions let me to believe this one would come to any semblance of a happy conclusion.  After all we are talking poultry here, and Vietnamese feathered products and I just don’t get along.  Living two years over here should have me better trained by now than letting down my guard like this.  See, this is what happens when you take your eye off the ball even for a second.

Hoa Nha Restaurant at 49 Phu Tay right on West Lake in Hanoi sells great fried shrimp cakes and snail dishes but their bizarrely translated menu offers other enticing oddities as well.  “Mannequin Birds Refurn” and “Rinse Peppers Fried Eel” are definitely on my to eat list but this time “Grilled Sparrows Back”, or chim sẻ quay, won out.

The Entire Bird

What arrived on the table caused my friends and me to erupt into one giant chorus of curse words.  Had this been a reality show, all you would have heard for a solid five minutes was the beeping out of profanity ranging all the way up to not so nice anatomical places crossed with the f word.  My friends told me I ordered it so I had to finish it.  They also reminded me about all the starving children in Africa and every other tactic our moms used to force nasty food down our throats way back when.

I squeezed a tiny sour orange the size of a quarter into a dish of salt, pepper and herbs to prepare the dipping sauce, and braced myself for impact.  Five tiny birds had been fried into oblivion and when I say birds, I mean the entire birds.  This mess was the eyeballs, legs, wings, insides, outsides, you name it.  It was all there in one tiny compact package redefining oi zoi oi.  And these baby birds left too many unanswered questions we three westerners dared not answer.  How does one even eat these things?  Is the head edible?  Are the insides a delicacy?  Oi zoi oi indeed.

Fueled by peer pressure and one Beer Saigon, I tore a tiny, tiny wing off the carcass, dredged it through the sauce, and was able to extract a piece of meat the size of a pinhead fairly reminiscent of Thanksgiving Day turkey in taste.  I culled a full meal the size of a nickel from all five birds and called it a day.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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