What Vietnam’s famous alcohol aphrodisiac is really made of
OH, the things people would do (or rather, drink) for love.
Aphrodisiacs come in many forms: from food to potions, to just about any form of alcohol. One of the most popular natural aphrodisiacs is oysters, which are high in zinc and have a reputation for being great for love and fertility. And if you live for chocolate then you are in luck because chocolate can certainly add flavor to an intimate evening.
But in some parts of the world, oysters and chocolates are child’s play.
In Asia, outlandish aphrodisiacs are not uncommon, thanks to centuries of traditional medicine and cultural beliefs.
The Chinese believe bird’s nest soup, which contains nests constructed with the spit of Asian cave swifts, can help to improve one’s sex life. Alternatively, there is the cheaper option of sea cucumber soup – a fleshy, sausage-shaped marine animal with leathery skin (which reportedly stiffens and squirts fluid, aherm) cooked in broth.
Speaking of ocean residents, the Japanese love a generous serving of the deadly fugu (blowfish), usually prepared and served in paper-thin sashimi slices by specially licensed chefs, guaranteed to give you a “tingling sensation”.
In the Philippines, locals will not even blink an eye while consuming balut, a common sidewalk snack of a duck egg that contains a fetus about 20 days into gestation.
Wait, it does get stranger.
Travelers to Vietnam should not be surprised to find store shelves lined with rows upon rows of the Vietnamese’s own brand of venomous vino.
The bottles of unusual wine are called ruou thuoc, a kind of traditional Vietnamese distilled liquor infused with herbs and more notably, animals. Which is why it is so easy to spot.
Sure, having a “pickled” snake (scales intact and all) stare back at you from inside a bottle may startle you initially, but snake wine is believed to enhance virility. It is prepared by putting an entire live snake inside a jar of rice wine then left to steep for several months.
The dead snake then ferments in the wine, releasing chemicals that transform the alcohol into a mystic tonic.
And it does not stop at just wine.
Chugging down a shot of snake blood or swallowing the still-beating heart of a cobra will also ignite your sexual vigor, it seems. In fact, it is so popular that there are food tours to snake restaurants in Hanoi.
But we will save you the gory details of how the dishes are prepared because it is definitely not for the squeamish.
Aside from wondering if these so-called traditions have cost the lives of hundreds way back when – from catching the snakes to preparation and consumption – the real question here is, “Do locals really believe in this?”
You would be surprised to know that most Vietnamese have neither consumed snake nor drunk its blood.
“It is not a significant part of our culture, and the fact that it survives at all is largely down to the tourist trade,” South China Morning Post quoted Animals Asia Foundation Vietnam director Tuan Bendixsen as saying.
Also, more than 20 snake species in Vietnam are protected, four of which are cobra species. Restaurants in Vietnam may claim its snakes are farmed but it is difficult to differentiate farmed snakes from those caught in the wild.
“Vietnam’s Traditional Medicine Association does not support the use of endangered wildlife products. They work with us on promoting herbal alternatives,” Bendixsen revealed.
And while creatures floating in alcohol is a shock factor and a conversation starter for tourists, consuming wildlife-infused ruou thuoc may not be as health-enhancing as it touts.
Bendixsen explained rice liquor contains only 30 to 40 percent alcohol or ethanol, not enough to stop viruses, bacteria, or other nasties. For example, reptiles carry salmonella, which can cause food poisoning, resulting in diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps.
Reptiles such as snakes.
Probably not the kind of wine that you should be buying for your anniversary or Valentine’s Day, eh?