Cat Meat

Introduction | Cat Meat | Map | Images

Of all the animals I can think of, cat is the only one I have a problem with eating for sentimental or emotional reasons. I spent the first 20 years of my life living with cats, all of whom lived long lives of up to or over 20 years. All of my cats became – as any pet owner knows – a part of my family, and after their deaths they were missed and mourned as much as any family member would be. But, I disagree with the idea that cute animals or animals kept as domestic pets shouldn’t be eaten or are any more difficult to eat because of their relationship to humans. When it comes to cuteness, is there anything to rival a lamb? Yet most of us have no problem at all eating them. Of course, lambs are not domestic animals, but the point is that the emotional distance between watching a lamb skipping in the meadow and seeing, smelling, and tasting a lamb chop is vast and almost irreconcilable these days. In Vietnam, at least, my thinking goes like this: if the animal is eaten because it tastes good – as opposed to its supposed medicinal qualities – then I’ll eat it, and almost invariably it turns out to be good. So, I headed to Chấn Hưng Street in Saigon’s Tân Bình District to try eating an animal that I’ve shared most of my life with.

Cat meat: still widely available in Vietnam
Cat meat is still widely available in Vietnam: but is it any good?

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CAT MEAT

Vũ Thư RestaurantVũ Thư Restaurant (123 Chấn Hưng Street, Tân Bình District) is a dilapidated shack thrown together with wooden planks, corrugated iron sheets and red bricks. Despite its ramshackle appearance this is the kind of place where you’ll find some of the best food in Vietnam. The restaurant is owned by Vũ and Thư, a friendly, hospitable husband and wife from northern Vietnam, who are proud of their menu, which includes both cat and dog. There’s a steady flow of customers throughout the night, many of whom are young Vietnamese in their twenties. Seating is on plastic chairs around low metallic tables. The sign outside advertises ‘fresh, live cats’, and as I scan the menu that’s printed on a tarpaulin hanging from the wall, I feel something brushing against my ankles; I look down to see three small cats fawning at my legs, eating morsels of discarded meat off the concrete floor.

Chopped cat meat grilled with herbsOf the couple dozen cat meat dishes on the menu I order three. The first thing to arrive on our table is a basket of green leaves, aromatic herbs, colourful condiments and crispy rice crackers; already we know we’re in for a good meal. The first dish is grilled chopped cat meat with rau má (a peppery clover-like leaf often called Vietnamese Pennywort) tossed in sesame seeds and garnished with coriander. We take some of the meat with our chopsticks, wrap it in a leaf, dip it in the peanut sauce, put it on a cracker, and eat. At first the meat is chewy, but then surprisingly light and soft. There’s a certain delicacy to it, almost like fish. It’s not particularly heavy, rich or strong like dog meat, and the addition of the herbs gives the meat a menthol, licorice quality that makes it taste clean and warming. We had to admit, it was delicious.

We watched for a few minutes while our next course was cooking over the large barbeque on the street-side. This gave us a chance to sample some of the dozen or so home-made wines that were displayed in big jars near the kitchen. An integral part of eating ‘exotic’ meats in Vietnam is the accompaniment of rượu – wine (probably better translated as ‘spirits’). We decided to try three different spirits to complement our three different cat dishes: rượu bắc (potent rice wine from the north), rượu mật ong (sweet honey wine with real bees in it!), and rượu bắc mật mèo đen (literally ‘northern black cat honey wine’). The latter was by far the strongest and none of us could work out what was in it, and we weren’t sure if we wanted to know either.

The wine list

Flame-grilled cat ribsThe flame-grilled cat ribs with a little lemongrass and a sprinkling of sesame seeds finally arrived. As we gnawed away at the bones we agreed once again that the meat was magic. The fat, however, was very peculiar and best avoided. It’s difficult to say why, but I suspect that the fat tastes strange because the flavour is so apparently unfamiliar that it’s disconcerting – although you know you’re eating something new and different, the moment you can’t link the taste with something more familiar, it scares your palate.

Barbecued ribs with sesame seedsOur final dish was a mild cat curry with sweet and subtle flavours including lemongrass, coconut juice, basil leaves, and ginger. In many ways this was the star of the show; a good balance of ‘cool’ and ‘warming’ flavours that leave you with the fresh, clean feeling you get after having brushed your teeth. It’s worth noting that, even though cute-looking cats were walking amongst the tables and chairs the whole evening, I rarely thought of the link between those living animals and the meat on my plate. I’m sure I’d feel differently if I had to kill the cats myself, but surely most of us would feel that way about any of the animals we eat. In the West, at least, there’s a massive gap in the imagination between ‘animal’ and ‘meat’.

Toasting cats at Vũ Thư Restaurant
Toasting cats at Vũ Thư Restaurant

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31 Responses to Cat Meat

  1. Andy says:

    Hi Tom!

    Big fan of your blog!
    We’re traveling to Saigon in July this year for the first time and are already super excited.

    As some commenters before me have stated already, the restaurant in this post seems to be closed by now.
    Have you found any other place that serves cat in HCMC by now?
    Also, can you maybe recommend a good place which serves dog (and also which dishes to try?)

    Thanks and keep up the the awesome posting!

    cheers,
    Andy

    • Hi Andy,

      I haven’t found another place in Saigon to eat cat (although I’m sure there are some). However, if you travel to the north you will find cat meat restaurants all over the place: look out for the signs saying ‘thịt mèo’.

      There are plenty of good dog meat restaurants in Saigon. In particular you can try ‘dog meat alley’ (read a bit more about that here under Dinner, Day 2).

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  2. Pingback: Horse Meat » Vietnam Coracle

  3. Rhea says:

    OMG,, I am a super cat lady and I feel sick just to read about cat meat. Big no no for me. However, your post is very much helpful for me to avoid those areas. T_T

  4. Jet says:

    Any restaurant serving good rabbit dishes in ho chi Minh? Thanks.

    • Hi Jet,

      I can’t recommend a particular place serving rabbit in Saigon, but I’m sure there are many. Also, Dalat is famous for its rabbit dishes too 🙂

      Tom

      • Jet says:

        Great to hear. Will be going to dalat next year. Best rabbit meal still the no name restaurant near Cao temple outside town? Any restaurant/eatery suggestions for just around town? Thanks again.

        • You could try Nhat Ly Restaurant at 88 Phan Dinh Phung Street – I had rabbit there once and it was good. But there are quite a lot of other places serving rabbit – just look for the word ‘thỏ’ (rabbit) on signs and on menus.

          Tom

  5. Minh says:

    Well, about the ” rượu bắc mật mèo đen”, the “mật” here isn’t “mật ong” in honey but “mật” in “gan mật”, in liver. Specifically, the gallbladder.
    So yeah, the correct name of that spirit will be “Northern black cat’s gallbladder wine”.
    Whether or not you wanted to know it or not, now you know it.
    And knowing is half the battle.

  6. Timo says:

    Also couldn’t find cat meat. Place is closed and we couldn’t get any info for another cat place from the locals..

    • Hi Timo,

      Yes, that’s a shame. As I mention in the reply to the previous comment, you will certainly still find cat meat available in northern Vietnam. As for Saigon, keep asking around, and if you find a new place, please let me know.

      Thanks,

      Tom

  7. Alex says:

    Not a great move IMO Tom, supporting a trade that kills peoples domestic pets. My cat went missing in Saigon recently and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up in a place like this. I’m really hoping that I meet some of the catchers out on the streets near my house one night soon, they might have a little trouble catching any dogs or cats, or walking for that matter, for a couple of months afterwards.

    • Hi Alex,

      Yes, I’m aware of the illegal cat and dog meat trade, and I have no wish to support it.

      As I mention in this article, I am a cat lover. We asked the proprietor at this restaurant who assured us his cats were all from his own small farm. Indeed many of his cats were roaming around the restaurant. Of course, all you can do is take him at his word. But this is the same with most other meats that we commonly eat – people as less inclined to asked where there beef or lamb comes from. And, a few years ago in Europe, people discovered they’d been eating horse meat instead of beef for years. Very few of us really know where our meat has come from nor how it has been treated. Still less of us ever bother to ask.

      I realize that cat and dog meat is a very sensitive issue for many. But, in my experience, people who run these restaurants are usually far more concerned about the origins of their meat and the quality of their food than other restaurants that serve more common meats. I’m certainly not denying or condoning the illegal cat and dog meat trade (if someone stole my cat I’d be as angry as you are about it) but neither should all these restaurants, the people who run them, and the people who dine in them by painted with the same brush.

      Tom

  8. Kelvin says:

    Just visited the place. Can’t find it. Check with the neighbours who informed that it’s closed.

  9. kate says:

    Thank you so much for the tips, Tom :).

    PS: I’ve found a link on the live worms aka duong cha la at 42 Tang Bat Ho St. Hopefully I’ll find all of em. Wish me luck lol.

  10. kate says:

    Hi again,

    Sorry. Are there live/fresh silkworm pupae (nhong) in Vietnam?

    • Yes, there are. Again, I don’t have the address of a particular place that serves it. Cat should be easy to find in the north of Vietnam. Just look for the signs saying ‘thịt mèo’

      Tom

      • Michele says:

        We met Guillaume from France who runs a small cafe in Hanoi with his girlfriend. They took us to Highway 4 at 101 Trần Thái Tông- very cool and trendy with great music. I didn’t indulge (I’m vegetarian), but my partner had scorpion, crickets and silk worm larvae. He wasn’t crazy about the scorpion as it’s mostly shell and hard to get any meat out of it. The crickets were “crunchy” and the silk worm larvae were soft and the tastiest. Personally, I loved the seafood hot pot that we all shared.

        • Hi Michele,

          Yes, Highway 4 is pretty famous in Hanoi for serving those kind of dishes 🙂 Glad to hear that you (or rather, your partner) were adventurous enough to open your palate to new experiences 🙂

          Tom

  11. kate says:

    Hi Tom,

    Greetings from Malaysia!

    By chance, would you know of any cat meat restaurants in Hanoi?

    Thank you!

  12. Ben says:

    Hey Tom,

    Just want to say fair play for giving an informative, honest depiction of your experience eating cat. I fully appreciate and agree with your sentiments regarding the hypocrisy of eating lamb and not eating domestic animals. This kind of information is great not because you ate something taboo but the fact you are not a hypocrite having spent most of your life with cat family members.

    I however still feel I couldn’t personally eat cat or dog, even though I’m wrong for thinking this and therefore a hypocrite because I’ll still happily eat a suckling pig or lamb shank. The fact that you have done it, written a great blog about it and described the flavours well enough for me to get an idea of the taste means that I will never have to try or at least hopefully never be in a situation where I’m forced to.

    The one thing I have an issue with places that serve domestic animals in Vietnam is the unknown locations they source their stock from. Which admittedly has very little to do with the actual consumption of the meat itself but still an important factor that effects where I eat. It’s not uncommon for pets to be stolen here and no doubt sold off to small businesses such as the fore-mentioned. Again though this has very little to do with the ethics surrounding the consumption of domestic animal meat itself. I just feel my point is worth putting out there in case hordes of people flock to places like this creating a high demand and therefore unregulated supply chain. Basically if anyone steals my cat and eats him I’m gonna be well pissed off!

    Keep up the great work on this blog, and thanks for supplying me with lots of fantastic info on where to go and what to do. Truly appreciated.

    Ben.

    • Hi Ben,

      Thanks for your thoughtful and insightful comment.

      I agree about the issue of not knowing where the meat is sourced. Although I have no problem eating meats like cat and dog, I certainly do not want it to be at the expense of someone’s pet.

      There are farms for animals such as cat and dog in Vietnam – just as there are for cows and lamb. However, supply can’t meet demand and this leads to the illegal dog and cat trade, which is very lucrative and run by thugs. Again, this is not something I wish to support.

      However, how many people who eat other ‘normal’ meats actually know or are concerned about where their meat comes from? It was only a few years ago that many countries in Europe discovered they had been eating horse meat which had been sold as beef for years.

      When it comes to ‘normal’ meats I think people are much more willing to accept what they are told about where and how the meat is sourced. But with so-called ‘exotic’ meats they will be much more skeptical.

      Tom

  13. Michael says:

    Greetings from the States!

    Just curious why haven’t there a post about dog meat?

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