March 2010
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"Thank you…but I don’t eat that"

Vietnamese karaoke singer

Last night I did something that anyone that knows me would be shocked by……I went to a karaoke bar.  A friend had been bugging me to go with him and a group of his friends for awhile….and so in another effort to try to be more social I agreed.  No….I did not sing.  They tried to get me to but I told them the truth….I don’t even sing in private to myself….let alone in front of a bunch of strangers.

I’m not shy.  Never have been.  But I know myself enough to know that I’m not a good singer….and if I’m no good at something…I just don’t  do it.  I do admire the confidence of people that will share their enthusiastic moans and screeching with others however….so I sat amused.  My friend asked me what the word “awful” meant…..because it kept popping up on the screen when his friends sang.  He laughed pretty hard when I told him.

The only live karaoke experience I’ve had in The States was when I went to Buffalo Wild Wing’s with my mom awhile back….and they had a stage where people would come up to sing and dance.  It was pretty bad and I was embarrassed for all the participants involved….even if they weren’t.  I assume that most karaoke setups in the U.S. are similar….with a stage where you get up and sing in front of a bunch of strangers….it’s a bit different in Vietnam.

If someone was to hold a gun to my head and force me to sing karaoke…..I would prefer to do it in Vietnam than in The States.  Here, instead of a stage…each group of friends rent a private room with comfortable sofas.  If you’re going to make a fool out of yourself….at least it’s limited to the people of your choosing.  The karaoke rooms have top notch audio/video equipment….and sound dampening material on the walls to help quell the noise so that the “music” inside won’t be heard outside of the room.  The particular bar we were in had about 10 rooms that are about 15×15 ft, with art deco styling and a big LCD TV in which to view the karaoke videos and lyrics.  I was impressed.  It was much nicer than what I had imagined and seen in Japanese movies with similar karaoke bars.

The Vietnamese, as do most Asians….take their karaoke very seriously.  There have been a few incidences of people in the Philippines being killed in what is referred to as the “My Way Killings“.  “My Way” is a famous Frank Sinatra song….and seems to be very popular with Asians.  Many fights have broken out because of the heckling involved when someone really botches the song.    Some karaoke bars go so far as to ban the song for fear of the trouble it may cause.

We were given big binders with thousands of songs and videos to choose from.  My friend and his compatriots just sang Vietnamese songs….mostly older, famous tunes that I’ve heard my mom listening to.  I think it’s kinda neat that the young people over here still like to listen and sing the stuff the older generations grew up with.   The bar also served food and drinks.  I ordered a glass of fresh blended watermelon juice and just sat and listened to everyone.

I wanted to leave after about a hour but my friend talked me into staying a bit longer and going out to eat dinner with him afterwards.  He took me to a place that specialized in Lau (Vietnamese Hotpot).  I’m not a big fan of hotpot but I was hungry;  so I wasn’t too picky.  There were 4 of his friends already at the restaurant when we showed up.

The hotpot starts out with just tofu and vegetables….then people add whatever ingredients they like.  The girl that sat to my right took charge of the creation of our meal and started adding unidentifiable stuff to the hotpot.  Luckily I had scooped out a bit of noodles (mi) and tofu before she added the weird stuff.  One of the ingredients was this shapeless, grayish, slimy looking substance.  After it sat cooking in the soup for about a couple of minutes….I was told it was ready to eat.  The girl to my right gets a big spoonful and offers it to me.

“What is it?” I ask.  She replies “oc”….which I thought was snails…..but it didn’t look like any snail I’ve ever seen.  Then her friends clarified that it was “oc heo”…..or pig brains.  Uhhhhhhh…..”Thank you…but I don’t eat that”, I told my generous server.  I completely lost my appetite after that.

It was another interesting night in Vietnam.  When I came home, my aunt was nice enough to bring out a bit of real food for me to eat.  She had made some grilled pork that she had marinated and sliced into thin tasty pieces for me.  Second piece of pork offered to me tonight….but this one I could actually eat.

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6 comments to "Thank you…but I don’t eat that"

  • Toan Nguyen

    Yikes. I agree with you. I cannot eat it either. A couple of my friends tried to get me eat it. Thanks but no thanks. There are a lot of things that I cannot eat in Vietnam. I need to try them though. Like o^’c (snails). Pretty much every Vietnamese people I know love them. :o)

    • odgnut

      yep…I have had to use “thank you…but I don’t eat that” more than a few times since I’ve been in Vietnam. I don’t eat dog, oc (both kinds)…although I used to eat escargot, shrimp (always have hated it), onions, durian, condensed blood (they serve with Bun Bo Hue), liver, crab guts, fish eggs, etc…..

  • Craig N

    Wow, dude. I eat shrimp, and onions, and on occasion, durian, and I am a white guy.

    • odgnut

      Well shrimp and onions really have nothing to do with Vietnamese food in particular….I don’t eat them in The States either.

      What can I say?….I’m just a picky eater.

  • Docwood

    You guys sound like you were in small town VN like the Mekong Delta or the Central Highland. Actually in Saigon, there are many Cafes that offer free karaoke services and you only have to pay for a drink (alcohol or non-alcohol). It would only cost $1 for a few hours of entertainment. The sexy waitresses kept topping my glass with Vietnamese ice tea for free. The only draw back is that you do have to sing in front of strangers. You can select your songs and fill out a small slip to hand it to the sexy waitress. Although I figure they (Strangers) don’t see me again anyway, but I am pretty good with singing songs from (Rod Stewart, Blondie, John Lenon and other American songs that I can find and like and some Chinese Songs etc…). With respect to Hotpot in Saigon, I never encountered the weird stuff you described. I always get what I expected in the hotpot, such as goat meat hotpot, Fish hotpot (Lau Ca Chep, Lau Ca Duong Hong, Lau dau ca [Fish head]). These tend to come with squids, fish balls, pig skins etc. . . The popular hotpot restaurant, that you won’t get a seat after 8:00PM is located at the corner of Chau Van Liem and Nguyen Trai in district 5. The Lau Ca Duong Hong is also popular although it’s outdoor with small tables and plastic baby stools located on Nguyen Trai Street which is a fews blocks west of Chau van Liem. Lau De Bau Sen is the very popular restaurant that specializes in Goat meat hotpot. This is located at the corner of Nguyen Trai and Le Hong Phone. I thought the Hotpot Enthusiasts would appreciate this information.

    • odgnut

      Nope…we were in Saigon. It was a fancy Karaoke bar off of Hai Ba Trung. Like I said, this was the only karaoke bar I’ve ever been to in VN so I didn’t know if the setup was the norm or not. We also didn’t have any sexy waitresses….just some waiters that would occasionally come in to see if we wanted to order any more drinks/food. The Lau (Hotpot) place we ate at was a very very low end dive….again….first time I’ve ever eaten Lau in VN, but according to my Aunts and cousins….pig brains is a very common ingredient.

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