Here’s the Thing About Eating Dog in Vietnam…

WARNING: This article contains an image of a dead, cooked dog. Don’t scroll down if you want to avoid seeing this.

Before arriving, we’d read a lot about the Vietnamese penchant for chowing down on “man’s best friend”. However, during our three months in Saigon, we hadn’t seen a single plate of dog being offered anywhere, and decided the stories were exaggerated. But it turns out that, in the north, they do eat dog. And it’s not exactly uncommon.

Dog eating restaurant in Hanoi

We didn’t have to wait long, before encountering dog meat in Hanoi. In fact, there was a stand directly across from our hotel. The very first thing we saw, on our very first morning in Hanoi, was this ghoulish dead dog on a spit, roasted golden brown, staring at us through its vacant eye sockets. Roasty was there every day to say “good morning”, and by noon, half of his corpse would be missing. Eventually, we got used to it. We even learned to spot Roasty from afar, so that we could avert our eyes before getting too close.

As a concept, neither Jürgen nor I have any problem with eating dog. We’re not vegetarians, and will happily scarf down cow meat, duck meat, chicken meat, rabbit meat, pig meat, and just about any other kind of animal. We’ve had whale meat and puffin meat, for crying out loud. We love baby cow meat, and recognize that humanity’s decision to call it “veal” is just an attempt to soften its evil. Baby cow meat tastes so good, it really does, but they’re awfully cute little guys. You can’t tell me a baby cow is any less cute than a dog.

On a personal level, though, dog meat is something I have difficulty with. When you’re raised with dogs, you learn to love them as companions. They’re intelligent, trustworthy, full of unbounded love, and fiercely loyal. They become your friend, often your best friend, and the thought of eating one becomes so outrageous, it borders on maniacal. What kind of monster could do such a thing?! We’ve developed such close relationships with dogs, that eating them feels like cannibalism.

Obviously, though, it’s not, and we refuse to judge the Vietnamese for eating dog. But there are plenty of other people who are happy to judge! We’ve seen a lot of horror stories pushed by foreign animal welfare groups, which are difficult to believe. One of the most widespread, is that evil Vietnamese vendors will trick Westerners into eating dog by passing it off as chicken. This is ridiculous on the face of it. Dog meat is much more expensive than chicken, because it’s thought to have special health properties. No businessman in his right mind would disguise an expensive product as a cheap one. It’s a transparent lie, designed to enrage.

Eating dog in Vietnam, roasted dog streed food.

The truth is, the Vietnamese know how we feel about eating dog, and they’re not keen to share this aspect of their culture. Once, we were looking for food in a small town west of Hanoi, and wandered into the first restaurant we found. The waiter leaped from his seat and shooed us out. “Rude,” I thought, until I took a better look at the restaurant’s sign, and saw the smiling dog in the corner. The waiter was really just trying to save everyone embarrassment, and I was happy he got rid of us, however brusquely.

At the end of the day, it’s the differences in our cultures which make travelling so fascinating. And not every “difference” is going to be charming or easy to understand. Even if you’re not going to try dog yourself, just being confronted with the possibility forces you to analyze and question your own beliefs. Why do I find this horrifying? Why aren’t I horrified by the other things I eat? Am I wrong? Are they?

We believe the correct answer is that nobody is wrong. Given our culture, Westerners are “right” to be shocked by eating dog. Given theirs, the Vietnamese are “right” to consider it normal. Here’s the deal: if you don’t cram “Roasty” down my throat, I’m not going to cram my ethics down yours. We’ll just agree to disagree on this one, and move along.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. A Couple Of Countries

    We can totally feel with you as we’re also traveling Vietnam in these days and couldn’t swipe the shocking look off our faces after approaching similar stalls. However, unlike you we didn’t dare to take photos because we were afraid that it would be taken as provocation. Hopefully, there was no dog part in our meals. 😉

  2. Nadia

    I am sorry but you are wrong. We judge other cultures every day. Teenage brides. Genital mutilation. Stoning for adultery. In some cultures bribery is commonplace but banned by international conventions. Dogs are intelligent loving creatures and I will never “look the other way” because it’s their culture. Some things are morally , ethically and legally wrong and should be condemned.

    1. Mike

      I totally understand where you’re coming from, and like I said, I could not eat dog. But pigs are also intelligent creatures. So are horses. Cows are sacred in India. We can’t judge other cultures based on the habits of our own, just as we shouldn’t expect to be judged on theirs. Genital mutilation, yes — this is a crime against humans. Ditto for stoning. I would definitely have a (very big!) problem if the Vietnamese were eating people. But eating dog meat is a different story. If our culture eats the flesh of other animals, it’s arbitrary for us to draw the line at “dog” and pretend THAT’S where it becomes evil.

    2. Spanky

      Righteous words.

  3. Karl

    I have been in Hanoi with my pet dog for 9 days now and have already seen quite a few dog meat sellers and also one person selling a live dog bound for the dinner plate. I obviously love dogs and couldn’t eat one, but it does bother me when I see it. But I don’t judge people for eating dog meat. However, you are missing one HUGE point that should be taken into consideration: a large proportion of dogs that are eaten in Vietnam are stolen pets or snatched street dogs. You could be eating a diseased animal or someone’s beloved companion. I have spoken with quite a few Vietnamese people who have warned me to be very careful when walking my dog. Is it immoral to eat dog? No. Is it immoral to eat someone’s stolen pet. YES!

  4. Rachel

    The manner in which they store and kill the dogs are inhumane. So I will judge. You bet I think USA also has problems with the way cows and other livestock are stored and killed but two wrongs most definitely don’t make right!
    I can’t agree with this article and I am disappointed that humane treatment of living creatures were overlooked.

  5. Felix Westphal

    This article made me hungry

    1. Brendon Moodley

      I would personally not sample dog, I’m always into trying new foods on my trips to South East Asia but dog is a bit much. On the flip side I will not criticize Vietnamese people who do consume dog meat, it’s their culture and their lifestyle, so be it. I am going to their country so it will be wrong to say what they should and should not be doing especially if they have been doing so for years.

  6. Damian

    Thanks for posting. I found this article by accident while planning a holiday in Hanoi. I did not know anything about this topic and it was not on my radar. Now, if I see a picture of a dog on the sign out the front of a restaurant I will not say to my wife “awww thats cute, they must love dogs and this is a dog friendly restaurant, should we eat here?” and instead make sure we keep moving!

Leave a Reply