Would you dare to join the worm-eating challenge in Saigon – Taste of the Fear Factor?
Temporarily leave the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City, I was invited to a friend’s house in Ben Tre for weekend breaks, enjoy typical cuisine of the region, make the most of unique cultural space and wallow myself in fascinating histories of our country.
I was feasted like an honored guest with all the delicacies, specialties of coconut kingdom such as sliced rice spaghetti, crab soup, country pancake with small edible snail. Rumors is not wrong about the liberal and generous deposition of people in the West. My excitement is suddenly extinguished when my friend’s family sets the final dish: Coconut worm swim in fish sauce. I quietly gulped and stared at corpulent worms that are as big as my thumb, wriggling in a bowl of chili fish sauce.
For many, it is fearful to see coconut worms which are as big as fingers wiggling. But with southwestern people, they are the gift of nature, a specialty that is not always available.
In the southwestern region, coconut worms are most in Ben Tre, which is the home to vast forests of coconuts. Though they are harmful to coconuts, they are the raw material for processing many aromatic, fatty and delicious cuisines.
Every year, in the rainy season may-bugs begin hollowing out coconut trees to lay eggs inside. When the eggs are hatched into larvae, the larvae begin to eat the coconut trees. When coconut trees are waned, it is also the time the coconut larvae are very fat. As such, people just cut down the coconut trees to collect worms.
The easy-processing and being the most popular dish, fresh worms served with chili sauce.
The living worms are dropped into a bowl of alcohol. After the worms emit contaminants, they are washed and put into a bowl of chili fish sauce. The living worms are fat and fleshy, which feels no different from egg yolk.
Coconut worms are also processed into other cuisines like fried butter worms, fried worms served with herbs, etc. But the most unique cuisine is coconut worms with sticky rice. Coconut worms are steamed on the sticky rice pot. When the steamed glutinous rice is done to a turn, the worms are also done. Sticky rice and coconut works are severed together, making a very special flavor.
Besides coconut worms, the southwestern people also have two other kinds of worms, which are quite rare – worms from dung dinh trees and worms from palm trees. According to their experience, worms from dung dinh trees are the best for gruel and the other kind is the best for grilling.
Seeing my worried facial expression, my friend smiled and said: “Everybody also has the same facial expression for the first time but after eating, you will not know since when you loved it”. Ben Tre Coconut worms live in coconut trees, only dead coconut trees have worms. People cut down the tree and catch the worm. Because coconut worms eat almost the nutrition of trees so they are clean, fast and nutritious. It is also known as the “First specialty of the South”, one of Southern produce used to tribute to emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty. Only honored guests and right in the rainy season have a chance to eat coconut worm.
To completely feel the special taste of coconut worms, a host chooses to eat raw for entertaining guests. Live worms are bred in a bowl of while alcohol for choking and releasing dirty agents. Then, worms are cleaned with water and bread in a bowl of hot chili fish sauce, corpulent worms wriggle in a plate. I shook my head, yield to the form of this dish. A friend who goes with me, after a wrestle with his conscience, decides to pick up a worm, slip into his mouth. It is known that there is a meaty and delicious taste of which has no differences from the egg yolk, is melting in the mouth and very delicious.
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