In the coffee shop where I got my morning caffeine fix, I met a Vietnamese man with a wooden left foot. He had just returned from a hunting trip and, when he caught me staring at his foot, invited me for a hunter’s luncheon at the restaurant he’d improvised behind the coffee shop.
At lunch time, I went to his place where he proudly presented a freshly-made ragoût, “Barking deer ragoût,” he said, “very delicious.” I wasn’t sure what barking deer was, but it definitely looked and smelled delicious; sautéed pieces of meat, bright yellow potatoes and sliced carrots, all floating in a velvety brown sauce sprinkled with fresh coriander.
As we ate, the atmosphere was friendly and the hunter very talkative - his seemingly bottomless beer glass may have helped. After a couple of beers, I dared to ask him about his wooden foot.
“Ho Chi Minh Trail,” he said and then gave an account of how, as a young soldier during the war, he had stepped on a piece of unexploded ordnance. His story, temporarily darkened the mood around the table, but as soon as he returned to telling hunting tales, the atmosphere brightened again.
When I recounted the stories to the backpackers gathered at my hotel later that night, they grimaced. “You ate what?” they exclaimed.
Then it dawned on me: barking deer. They thought I’d been eating dog! Had I? It hadn’t tasted like any venison I’d ever had before, but what was barking deer? Feeling flushed, I went to an Internet café to check it out. “Barking Deer”, officially known as muntjacs, is a deer species native to South Asia. This was Southeast Asia. I guess I’ll never know!
- Marko van Gaans -
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