Being fed Fido: Eating dog in Vietnam

Jump to story list

First published 2nd September, 2009

Being something of a culinary adventurer, I decided to try dog meat, and brought a Vietnamese guide along with me to share the experience. Afterall, eating dog is so much friendlier with two. Approaching the restaurant, I was in for a bit of a shock: a sign outside advertising Thit Cho, with a blown-up photo of a healthy-looking German shepherd prominently displayed. As if this were somehow appetizing. But then, when you think about it -- back in the US, a jolly cartoon pig on a sign outside a pork barbecue is not unheard-of. This was the same thing, right?


When I entered the courtyard of the restaurant, another shock: a dog happily bopping around among the low tables. Did the dinner get loose? No -- this was the family's pet dog. Okay.

I sat down, cross-legged at one of the tables and glanced to my left where I noticed two live dogs sitting glumly, silently, in a wooden cage. I definitely wasn't expecting to see that. At first I had a thought, rooted in denial, that these could be more pet dogs, that were just sitting in a cage ... for some reason.

But no. They were dinner.

The sign says it all

A full dog spread


A dog kept in a cage within the restaurant

I struggle with myself. Dogs are intelligent and affectionate. That's why we don't eat them. But then, pigs can be intelligent and affectionate as well. People keep pigs as pets. Pot bellied pigs. Vietnamese Pot Bellied pigs make excellent pets, and I eat pork all the time without thinking twice about it. I'm just being an ethnocentric western hypocrite.

I try to put the dogs in the cages out of my mind and get down to the business at hand -- devouring their fallen comrade. Dogs are eaten all over Asia -- Korea, China, Laos parts of Northern Thailand. I'm not going to impose my occidental world-view on what I'm experiencing. If it's a common practice among so many people, there must be something to it.

My 'guide' and I order up a dog feast. Roast dog, barbecued dog, dog stew. Just to cover all the bases. The locals at the other tables watch me out of the side of their eye, punctuated by nudges and chuckles to their friends, trying to gage if I like it. I dig into each offering as it arrives, and assure my Vietnamese audience that I enjoy it thoroughly. Even though that's not entirely true.

It's a strange taste. Not a bad taste. It's hard to explain. People who try lamb for the first time probably have a similar experience. Dog tastes nothing like lamb -- it's just a little different in sort of the same way. And despite numerous jokes to the contrary, it tastes nothing like chicken.

The barbecued dog is the best of the dishes. Cooked up on a charcoal grill, crispy chunks of meat in a sesame-seed marinade -- hard to go wrong with that. The roast dog presents much like roast pork, and has the mildest flavour. It's traditionally eaten with mam tam, which is a singular experience in itself. It's made from raw shrimp paste, and it smells and tastes exactly like raw sewage. I dip each piece of meat in it, if only a little, and struggle to get the point.

The most problematic entree in the dog feast is the dog stew. In an attractive clay pot, simmered in rice-wine, it's exactly like a succulent beef stew that I might otherwise be delighted to enjoy. But it's like eating insect flavoured ice cream. It's hard to enjoy it, even if it tastes good.

I ask my guide where they get the dogs we're eating. "From families with farms," he tells me.

Really? Farms? What kind of farms? Dog farms? The mind races.

No, not really 'dog farms.' Just regular farms, and along with the pigs and chickens, they raise some dogs sometimes, to be sold to dog restaurants.

In for a penny, in for a pound, I ask the question that is always on everyone's mind in relation to eating dog. "If someone's pet dog gets loose, could someone round it up and sell it to a dog restaurant?" After all, that's what we westerners are afraid of. Rover's on the barbecue. That's what makes it seem wrong.

My guide smiles. "We don't kill the dog if we love the dog," he assures me. "If we love the dog, we wait until it dies. Then we sell it to a dog restaurant."

Ah! That makes sense. Rover croaks, and, rather than letting him push up daisies in the backyard, you make 20 bucks off the traumatic event.

Let the healing begin.

I drink some more rice wine, a traditional accompaniment to dog meat in Vietnam. It tastes like lighter fluid, and kicks a punch of about 80 proof. Good thing in this case. It dulls my senses so I can get through the rest of the meal.

As we're leaving the restaurant I notice a place next door advertising meo. The sign out front features a picture of a cat. Something tells me it's not a pet shop. Despite my unnerving foray into dog consumption, I'm curious to give it a try. I'm not much of a cat person anyway. Probably tastes like chicken.



Story by

Related reading

Eating on the edge


Read 42 comment(s)

  • i think one of the reason ppl say "it tastes like chicken" is that chicken itself does not have a lot of taste.
    i once eate snake in vietnam and i did think of chicken the same way as i thought of popcorn when eating bamboo worms in thailand.
    maybe it's just a reflex when we eat something we might find a bit gross, to think of something we are more comfortable to eat.

    Posted by Jan on 3rd September, 2009

  • Interesting. Covered most of the reservations I probably would have at the idea of eating fido. Sounds like the stew was too realistic?

    Looking forward to the cat reveiw. (nothing personal WSC)

    Posted by somsai on 3rd September, 2009

  • You are a braver person than I. But thank you for the entertaining story.

    Posted by KazAussie on 4th September, 2009

  • "After all, that's what we westerners are afraid of. Rover's on the barbecue. That's what makes it seem wrong."

    There's a little more to it. The reason westerners (and an increasing number of non-westerners) are so concerned is not simply because it means "eating Fido" but because in Asia the dogs are often butchered alive after being severely beaten in order to to release endorphins that are thought to increase men's libidos. It's also thought that this practice makes the meat more tender, which is total nonsense. Never hurts to do a little research.

    Posted by nomad on 9th September, 2009

  • I have tried dog a few times in China. Thankfully it was covered in some sort of heavy sauce, so that was probably what I tasted the most. I saw a dog being bbq'd on the street in Dongguan on a homemade spit and steel drum. That was pretty disgusting looking.

    Posted by Tyger on 17th December, 2009

  • To nomad: I live in Hanoi and have been trying to get corroboration on the idea that dogs are beaten before being killed. So far, I've gotten no eyewitness accounts of this, though I have received several eyewitness accounts of dogs being butchered pretty much like any other mammal: tied up, legs splayed, throat slit quickly. I'm not saying it's definitely NOT true, only that it clearly isn't a required part of the ritual.

    Posted by Hal Medrano on 31st December, 2009

  • IF PEOPLE ONLY KNEW THE INHUMANE TREATMENT AND SUFFERING THESE DOGS ENDURED BEFORE BEING BUTCHERED. BARBARIC COMES TO MIND.

    Posted by jewelee on 20th February, 2010

  • I was in Nim Binh, Vietnam and twice saw a truck fully loaded, cages upon cages, with yelping dogs. I am thinking they were on their way to the slaughter house. The second day it was the end of the day the same truck went by, only one dog howling, the rest appeared to be dead or dying from what I could only guess to be heat stroke. Like any animal, pet or food, I believe they should all be treated humanely (as I'm sure we all believe this). It was definately hard to see, and really challenged my western views. Sorry, but I don't think I could ever bring myself to try it, based only on what I have personally seen.

    Posted by Lora on 11th May, 2010

  • Recently in Hanoi and wanting to experience their customs, relunctantly tried dog. I agree with the article that it's taste is hard to describe other than a hard or harsh taste, but not pleasant. It's mind over matter when eating the foods in other countries. We raise all kinds of meat in all kinds of conditions so how would one ever know the circumstamces of what one was eating. Tried the snake in Hanoi as well and it was delicious.

    Posted by Judy WIlson on 29th May, 2010

  • I am suprise of the number of understanding and adventuress barbaric people on this side.

    Instead of getting a brain and stop eating pigs you actually agree and even get involved in this horrifying practise of eating pets........
    Asian donts know any better, but you should !!!!
    i am glad I dont know any of you, becouse I deck you one my self !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Dont bother replying, I am never coming back to this web side.

    I wonder what you teach you kids ? Will you kill your daughter so you can have a son, they do that in China, so maybe you want to try that........ after all you want to respect local tradition.

    Posted by Miky on 23rd June, 2010

  • I was stationed in South Korea from May 1979 to May 1980, and I and a friend (Ishmael Harrigan) Ish witnessed an adult male korean with two very small children (probably 3-5 years old) turning a rather large brown haired dog over a homemade spit. The adult seemed to be taking the hair off as he turned it over the spit. The smell was beyond gross. But I was'nt overly appalled, because the people are beyond poor. They actually have skinned dogs in the market area of downtown Seoul! This again was in the 1979-80 era!

    Posted by Eldubb on 13th August, 2010

  • If MIKY was born beyond poverty in any of these third world countries, trust me, his father and mother would make his ass eat whatever the course was that day. It's either eat or don't eat over there! Let's not judge!

    Posted by Eldubb on 13th August, 2010

  • i think it's rather the way these dogs are kept and the inhumane slaughter, rather than the actual consumption of these trusting animals that is disturbing here.

    Posted by julie on 13th August, 2010

  • If only people knew the way pigs, oxes, chickens, basically all of the animals we happily eat in the west are treated... do you think dog treatment is barbaric in Asia?
    Think this:
    Geese have their feet nailed to the floor so they don't move and get fatter and make better paté.
    Chicken are caged so tight that their beaks have to be cut off so they don't stab one another with them, because in those conditions they quickly get mad.
    Pigs by the way don't like to live in their own shit. But they have no choice because they are given no space.
    And if your guts won't fail you... do some research about American and European slaughter houses...

    Posted by francesco on 16th August, 2010

  • You are sick and disgust me

    Posted by a decent human being on 3rd December, 2010

  • You do not eat animals that eat meat you freaks.

    Posted by people who eat dog are evil on 3rd December, 2010

  • YOU'RE SICK
    YOU'RE JUST FEEDING THIS DISGUSTING HABIT
    I WANT SOMEONE TO EAT YOU JUST TO 'TRY' IT

    Posted by me on 17th May, 2011

  • you r one sick unit.

    now if we were to feed the death row too the lifers or such, not only would we save money on feeding the oxygen theives, but save the ozone on burning the bastards.

    jewelee.

    Posted by jewelee on 18th May, 2011

  • I don't think I could ever make myself eat dog (particularly while one was looking at me), but it's really interesting how emotional people get over the thought of it. I guess dogs are just to ingrained in us as pets that it's too painful to imagine them any other way.

    I did see a truck full of dogs in cages in Vietnam and it was heartbreaking to watch. Still, I can't imagine dogs are treated any poorer than other livestock in SE Asia, which admittedly is probably pretty terrible.

    Nonetheless some of these comments reek of cultural imperialism, and some downright racism.

    Posted by Steph on 18th May, 2011

  • @people who eat dog are evil

    interesting, because fish is meat and fish eat fish. and snakes eat meat. and so do alligators. all of those are eaten, and i can guarantee that you eat some fish once in a while. There's a rabbit in my yard eating my vegetables that I will be shooting tomorrow. Chances are I'll be eating him too. You may call it sick, I call it not being wasteful.

    @francesco

    Those geese are probably making foie gras...one of the most inhumane things I've ever heard of. Geese have no ability to throw up, so a tube is forced into them and food constantly shoved down it into the stomach. They digest all of it, but since it is so unhealthy for them, it causes the liver to become enlarged and fatty...and you get the name Foie Gras (fatty liver).

    Let us know how the cat was?

    Posted by A Carnivore on 25th May, 2011

  • in response to fish is meat, fish eat fish. Veeery Goooooood, go to the top of the class. just let me steer u back on track a minute...
    the subject was people eating dogs.
    F Y I... (for your information)...rabbits DO NOT eat meat, as for Alligator??? and snake... your fine dining habits, are impressive,
    however, i never have seen a rabbit, alligator OR snake, lead the blind,detect a bomb, protect a family, or show unconditional love and devotion 24 seven.
    Would u eat your best friend, or family member?

    Posted by jewelee on 28th May, 2011

  • I always knew the subject of eating dog was a contentious one but I am still really surprised by some of the comments in this thread. I don't care whether you think it's right or wrong to eat dog, what bothers me is this insinuation that cultures in which eating dog is commonplace are somehow lesser beings. "Asian donts know any better, but you should !!!!" - What??????? I'm appalled.

    I teach in Hanoi and have of course discussed the subject of eating dog with my students: most of whom enjoy it. They are certainly not stupid, naive or backward: dog is culturally a food as well as a pet. It's the way things are.

    Posted by hanoian on 31st May, 2011

  • @ Jewelee

    It sounds like your insinuation is that intelligence is a key factor as to whether or not an animal should be food. If that were the case, you should stop eating pig. They are now being trained by the Israelis to sniff out land mines in Angola, as service animals just like dogs, and also as pets, as they are extremely intelligent, actually far more intelligent than a dog. If you don't believe me, here are the articles.
    http://adaptiveenvironments.org/neada/site/2007_summer_federal_laws
    http://www.spokesmanreview.com/breaking/story.asp?ID=16817
    http://maic.jmu.edu/journal/7.3/focus/townsend2/townsend2.htm
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/10/science/10angier.html

    Since I have completely debunked your argument of intelligent food, the key factor as to whether or not an animal should be used as food must be how "cute" the animal is. Cute or not, it's made of meat and will be eaten by someone, somewhere, and that's actually incredibly naive to think otherwise. But go ahead and try to attribute human responses and emotion to your dog. It'll be an awful, misbehaved, worthless pet. Treat it like a wolf and you'll have much better results. This series of articles will make you a better dog owner.
    http://www.dogbreedinfo.com/articles/humandog.htm

    Posted by A Carnivore on 1st June, 2011

  • Cute ending to an interesting story. I was just thinking the other night... Do the dogs come from dog farms?

    Posted by Cheryl on 23rd September, 2011

  • God your so nieve.... Dogs are clubbed to death before being carved up and cooked for food. You believed your guide. Geeh what a thicko are you.
    Have a look at youtube and think again. What a prick you are.
    Complete cruelty beyone belief are these bloody asians.

    Posted by Ron on 22nd October, 2011

  • 'Bloody asians'? If that's your opinion then you're on the wrong site Ron.

    Posted by hanoian on 22nd October, 2011

  • Although I wouldn't be able to bring myself to do it, thank you for a nonetheless interesting read.

    To all the people on this site who are bad-mouthing the author of this article, here's a few things.

    1. Please try to use proper English, otherwise most of us won't take what you have to say with a grain of salt.

    2. Go back to Patong where you can drink all the cocktails you like, whilst you feast on Pad Thai and wear your Elwood singlets.

    3. I bet all of you eat meat everyday and barely have a second thought.

    Happy travelling!

    Posted by BTone on 27th November, 2011

  • Hey awesome article - i'm keeping a travel blog, which is helping me really appreciate great posts like this! Didn't expect the vitriol in the comments - agree with your sentiments and lean toward believing the dog clubbings are the exception rather than the rule. Still not sure i'll give it a go but thanks for trying for us!

    Posted by Hedge on 3rd December, 2011

  • Whoa, a traumatic experience! HA, i dont ever plan on eating cho, but anyways, great article man! I enjoyed it.

    Posted by teresa on 7th July, 2012

  • insightful, amusing, considered article

    shame that a few comments are only 'vitriol'

    i have always found that those who shout the loudest are those that are the most wrong

    so, thankyou again for an insightful article, although i am still undecided on whether its Fido or Noodles for tomorrow's dinner ... :-)

    Posted by toby holland on 1st January, 2013

  • I work at an animal welfare charity in Vietnam, part of out work involves investigating the dog meat trade.
    I would like to state categorically the welfare in this trade is atrocious, the dogs are crated, rammed full into containers where many suffer broken limbs and a significant number die from heat stress before they even reach the slaughter house. A vast number of these animals are also stolen from local villagers - our local staff have their pets stolen on a regular basis. Once at the slaughter house the animals are dogs are clubbed to death. Our Vietnamese workers have accompanied international journalists to these slaughter houses - these people have all seen some horrendous things in their time and even they are still horrified by what happens to the dogs. Domestic farm animals have it easy over here in comparison-in general they are either killed locally after living 'free-range' or in larger operations with international type procedures.
    I have no problem with people experiencing traditions but when those traditions involve excessive cruelty it would be nice if people could think twice instead of ignorantly participating with no thoughts or regard. If the transport and killing of these animals was humane then fine, experience it if you wish to, the transport and killing is on the contrary barbaric and yet tourists blithely continue to support it.

    Posted by Bridgette on 27th January, 2013

  • this sucks

    Posted by jimmy on 21st March, 2013

  • this sucks

    Posted by jimmy on 21st March, 2013

  • Well written article. I'm not sure I could do it !

    Posted by Paul Close on 28th January, 2014

  • Jesus Christ. I will never, ever understand how a westerner could condone, take part, enjoy and promote this barbarism.

    Posted by kate on 14th June, 2014

  • But Blasphemy is fine, eh Kate ??!!??

    Posted by tobyholland on 15th June, 2014

  • Whether we condone, take part, enjoy or promote doesn't change that it still goes on. Its just not written about. I travel to experience the traditional ways of the country I'm visiting not to pass judgement on what they have had to do for generations to survive.I cant see it any different than the way we secure our other proteins today, pigs, cows, chicken etc etc. They don't eat their pets, they are not barbarians. Its a custom to them, just like eating snake and that was good too.

    Posted by Judy on 15th June, 2014

  • Hear, hear Judy - spot on :-)

    Posted by tobyholland on 15th June, 2014

  • DID YOU TRY THE CAT PLACE??? :D :O

    Posted by Kasey on 12th September, 2014

  • Stop doing this you bastards it's so cruel and should be stopped. You all have no feelings for the animal which do have feelings

    Posted by Victoria on 10th October, 2014

  • hey, victoria
    why not take a moment to read Judy's comment above ....

    Posted by tobyholland on 15th October, 2014

  • I have been in Vietnam for over 2 months now. I am a western citizen for over 30 years. My nationality is Vietnamese. I can only speak from my personal experience having owned 2 dogs. I have tried alligator and snake here for the first time on this trip.

    I can not bring myself to have dog for a meal. Having said that, if my situation is different, say poverty, or survival, then it would be a different answer.

    Posted by T on 18th November, 2014

Add your comment

Feature story quicklinks


Newsletter signup

Sign up for Travelfish Burp!

Our weekly wrap on Southeast Asian travel.
Click here to see a recent newsletter.

We respect your email privacy