Gruesome Garden Restaurant
There was a commotion in the next room. “They just killed the chicken for us,” Darling Man said.
I hadn’t been listening when Darling Man ordered, busy keeping Miss M occupied. I did hear the old guy taking the order saying “we don’t have seafood” though.
“No seafood!” I interjected, then let the complicated flow of the order continue. Getting to the restaurant, recommended by one of Darling Man’s friends, had taken two days. And I was looking forward to some tasty seafood. What else would a recommended restaurant on the almost undiscovered resort island of Con Dao serve?
A frog dish arrived first. I felt a bit sick. I ate a few slices of onion. I took another slug of beer. I popped a morsel of frog meat in the baby’s mouth. Then realised I was being a total hypocrite by feeding the baby frog and turning my own nose up at it. Gingerly, I navigated a piece of frog into my own mouth with the chopsticks.
It tasted a bit like chicken, lighter and more delicate, but with lots of tiny bones. Darling Man says Vietnamese people love crunching on bones, tendons and sinews. I don’t. I like my meat bland, with no bones, fat or crunchiness. Darling Man encouraged me to eat some skin, saying it would be good for my skin. I looked at a slimy black lump. “Frog is a cooling food,” Darling Man said. I took another piece of onion, which was delicious, flavoured with ginger and a hint of curry.
We had set out for the recommended restaurant the day before, following the directions of the hotel staff. Straight down the road, they’d said, pointing to the left, away from the town. We started walking. We passed a cow tethered to the side of the road. We passed a quarry. There weren’t any houses. Things weren’t looking promising. Darling Man spotted a quarry worker and went over to ask directions.
The quarry guy sent us back along the road to town. Straight down the road, he’d said, apparently. We walked all the way back to our hotel, continued on, arriving in the town without passing Tinh Hoang restaurant. We ate a disappointing meal in town, the lowlight a terrible bowl of rice porridge Darling Man said was made from a packet mix.
We asked some locals for directions. They pointed back along the road we’d come from. Tomorrow, we told ourselves.
So we set out again, a bit earlier, when it was still light. We passed the cow, the quarry, more cows, a house. It didn’t look like restaurant territory. The sun set. We continued on, sweatily. Another house appeared, dogs barking as we got nearer. Darling Man walked over to ask directions.
The guy gestured back along the road we’d just spent 40 minutes walking along. Darling Man jogged back along the road. “We have to turn,” he said. No one had mentioned a turn before. We started walking back to the intersection, about two minutes walk from our hotel.
We reach our turning. We pass a large lotus lake. I want to see it in the daylight. We see lights, we hear music. Much more promising.
Finally we reach Tinh Hoang and we cross a little bridge made of wooden planks and find a private “room” is free. A small knee-high table, even smaller plastic chairs and a hammock. Darling Man collapses into the hammock and calls for a round of beers.
Then the ordering conversation begins. After the guy leaves I ask why there’s no seafood. Darling Man says it’s a garden restaurant that serves “things from around the garden”. I try to think what that could be. “You know, like frog and chicken and vegetables,” he said.
“Err, yuk – frog!” I say, just before a plate of it lands on our table.
Luckily the frog is followed by rau muong sao toi — stir-fried morning glory with garlic — one of my favourite dishes. I concentrate on the vegetables, letting Darling Man focus on the frog.
We have attracted an audience of small children and assorted restaurant staff. A waitress takes the baby away to parade before the other patrons. I hope she doesn’t drop Miss M in the canal. Children trail behind the waitress, shouting and laughing.
Finally our chicken porridge arrives. It looks wonderful, even though I can’t banish the thought that it was a live happy chicken only a few moments ago. Then a plate of chicken pieces is placed on the table. It looks like a dead chicken, cut up. I don’t feel like eating anymore.
Our audience pulls up some chairs to get a better view of the funny foreigner frowning at food.
I pick at the salad, obsessed with the dead chicken. I eat a bowl of the chicken porridge. It is pretty fine porridge.
“Mmmmm, fresh food,” Darling Man said, gnawing on a piece of chicken.
The combination of staring children and a staring dead chicken’s head is too much for me. I take the baby and head back to the hotel while Darling Man stays to eat as much as possible.
The next day I wake up hungry. We head off to breakfast. But as we arrive, Darling Man shouts out “the chicken!” and rushes back to our room. He reappears with a doggy bag and a huge grin.
It still doesn’t appeal. And I’m not hungry any more.
9 years ago