It was one of the more disturbing experiences I had while in Vietnam.
Normally I am completely up for partaking in any sort of cultural tradition, whether it be event, food, or custom, but this one threw me. Shooting back cobra hearts.
Maybe it was the fact that we pulled down a back alley to a concrete box of place that was mostly bare apart from the random clay urns shoved in the corner and shelves of glass jars filled in ominous looking liquids and creature remnants.
Or perhaps it was because when I say “we” I am referring to a group of 25 teenagers piling off a gigantic bus with no knowledge or concern for why one would swallow a beating cobra heart, except for the fact that it sounds outrageous.
It goes like this:
- 1. The proprietor selects a snake from the wall of brick and wood cages. He lets it slither around on the floor a bit, just to make sure everyone is sufficiently riled up.
2. The snake goes into a black bag. Quite, Calm, Dark.
3. The snake comes out of the black bag, and the propriety whips his serpentine body into the air before smacking his head on the concrete. Now we have an unconscious snake, but don’t worry, his heart is still beating.
4. Surgery. A sharp knife draws a line from the chin 6 inches straight down the middle, giving this same knife just enough room to slip in and sever the purple, pulsing vein that connects the cobra’s heart, his life force, to the rest of his body. Done.
5. The heart is sloppily laid on a plate. It looks like a dark purple stone decorated with bright red smears of blood, but it continues to pulse and writhe on the plate as though is were trying to run away.
- 6. The rest of the blood is slowly squeezed out of the snake's body and into a large glass beaker.
8. Bottom’s up. The little cobra heart has even yet to loose it’s vigor. The drinkers reported a pulsing, beating sensation in their esophagus as the heart descended.
9. And just when you think the fun is over, it’s cocktail hour! The proprietor’s wife is fixing beverages- half blood, half Sprite- and many partake in the thrill of toasting to the snake’s demise.