My co-teacher Jason and I were roped into having lunch with the class we share this afternoon. First we thought we were heading to the bede (sic) hotpot, a joint on the infamously stinky Nhieu Loc Canal where transsexual waiters serve you, but unfortunately they only open at night. I guess it’s a kind of “from dusk til dawn” experience. Anyway, we ended up heading around the corner from our school to Lau De Truong Dinh – a goat hotpot establishment, specialising in all sorts of goat goodies, as we were soon to find out.
Things started out innocently enough, with barbequed goat meat and goat’s breast - this place's specialty - cooked on little clay tripods at your table. Now, the distinction between meat and breast may sound trivial to you, but I mention it because the textures are quite distinct. Despite being marinated in the same sauce and tasting similar, the meat has a, well, meaty texture and the breast is more…chewy, so the experience was more like munching away on a fake silicon tit. Served with grilled bitter gourd and ladyfingers this went down quite well. When new bowls were brought for the next course and our students shouted at the waiters to bring out four plates of pig’s brains, Jason (who was already on antibiotics thanks to a stomach infection) and I just shot each other a knowing look across the table.
Again cooked at the table, the big clay hotpot consisted of some distinguishable and mostly indistinguishable ingredients. As the broth heated up to boiling point, various leafy greens were continuously added along with button mushrooms and some bigger varieties, two kinds of noodles (pho and mi), lotus root, big chunks of taro, a big, yellow, wobbling block of tofu as well as sheets of tofu, and various floating, bobbing pieces of goat.
As the hotpot started steaming and boiling, the pig’s brain – which has the consistency of crème brule and the annoying habit of falling through between your chopsticks (try eating custard with chopsticks) – was added. Mmmm, I can still smell it. Hearty and nutritious, thick pieces of goat’s tripe, muscle and bone would surface from the murky depths of your broth, while eager students’ gazes silently urged you to have more. Chunks of cartilage, layers of what looked like the hide of the goat (minus the hair) and other unchewables secretly found their way under the table and on to the floor, well at least from my part. Sated and content, we rolled out of Lau De Truong Dinh, muttering fervent hopes that the establishment will accidentally become the victim of arson and burn to the ground to save the next naïve teachers from its wicked clutches. Actually, it wasn’t that bad, but just not what I had in mind for a Friday lunch.