A Cook's Tour (2002–…): Season 1, Episode 3 - Cobra Heart-Food That Makes You Manly - full transcript

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam : After taking a cyclo ride through Ho Chi Minh City and trying various foods from roadside vendors and markets, Tony tests his might with a few shots of snake wine and a live cobra heart.

Welcome to my world.


Two escargot, ponte, frisee.

Two green salads.


Line us up here.

Lamb chops, steak frites.

Should you be doing something?

Two smoked fillet
and a pepper steak.

Come on, make the desert.

Chocolate tart, please.

a cook, tastes and smells

are my memories, and now
I'm in search of new ones.

So I'm leaving New
York City and hope

to have a few epiphanies
around the world.

And I'm going to go to
some lengths to do that.

I am looking for extremes
of emotion and experience.

I'll try anything.

I'll risk everything.

I have nothing to lose.


It's beautiful.

It's dreamlike.

It's exotic.

It has a very sensuous nature.

It's an intoxicating
place to be.

You can see why generations
of Frenchmen and Americans

went insane here.

But frankly, I've got the
whole insanity thing down.

I'm here to experience
the flavors and textures

of Vietnamese cuisine, from
everyday fare to the wildly

exotic, and maybe a little
taste of the French influence.

On first arrival, it is
just sheer excitement.

Ho Chi Minh City's a
real throng of people.

People are in constant motion.


It's a little
intimidating at first.

It's amazing what people
could fit on two wheels.

Whole families all squeezed onto
a the tiny little motorbike.

I'd like it if New York
were more like this.

Basically taxis, scooters, and
little two strobe motorcycles.

Traffic flows at inexplicable
and wondrous patterns in space.

Walking here is a challenge.

You've got to be awake.

Off to the market.

Look at some hooves and snouts.

The markets are always
wonderful places

to sample all the local fare.

And I'm on the hunt for the
ever popular hot vin lan--

fetal duck egg.

But first, I've got to
make it across the road.

After the guy in green I'm gone.

Hang on.


Watch your back.

All right.

Dodging this traffic
makes running

through the defensive line
of the New York Giants

look like a stroll
through the park.

It is suggested that
this road is one way.

Watch your back.

Ben Thanh Market is the
central marketplace in Saigon.

The largest and
busiest in the city.


We enter the market through
the live poultry section.

Nothing like the smell of
poultry, excrement, and fear.

The smell of a lot of live
poultry, a lot of food cooking,

makes a rather heady mix.

Actually, it smells better
than the live poultry

market in New York.

A lot better.

Americans, we see
our poultry, we

see our meat, in neat
plastic-wrapped packages

in the supermarket.

We don't have to smell it.

We don't have to
look at its face.

The Vietnamese
understand that this

started out a live creature.

In fact, it's still is a
live creature until just

before dinner time.

It seems like a panorama
of cruelty at first.

But in some ways, it's more
honest than our system.

Somewhere in this
maze of food is

the duck egg I'm looking for.

There are food stalls, each
food stall specializing

in different aspects of
Vietnamese day-to-day working

class cuisine.

Getting hungry.

Bowls of pho, which
are noodle soups.

Some made with beef and
pork, others with seafood.

Some are spicy with different
kinds of stocks, cilantro,

chilies, and another garnishes.

A little lime, and
sprouts and greens.

And maybe we'll
have a spring roll.

Places that specialize
in spring rolls, or beef,

or chicken on a stick.

Fruit juices.


And in every case,
it's spectacularly

fresh, smells good.

Very spicy.

Time and time
again, you're struck

by how proud each vendor is.

They want you to try their food.

Oh, that's great.


Here it is, hot vin
lan-- fetal duck egg.

Um, one hot vin lan.

Sold and consumed on the
street and in stalls,

it's a popular Vietnamese
snack, especially

for men who believe
it enhances virility.

It's hot.

It's a duck embryo,
matured past half term,

and then soft-boiled.

Any takers?

It's a difficult
dining experience.

The vaguely feathery,
furry-looking bits

here are actually not bad.

I don't think I'll be
having another, though.

I think it's back to
croissant tomorrow.

I don't think I'll be making
that a breakfast staple.

I don't think I'll be adding
that to, you know, what is it?

A little Special K with milk,
bacon, and fetal duck egg.

Beaks and feathers first
thing in the morning

may have been a bit ambitious.

I'm in need of something
to settle my stomach.

I hook up with a cyclo
driver who assures me

he has just the remedy.

Now most of the cyclo
drivers, they're

very proud and very happy about
wherever it is they take you.

They're all too
eager to take you

to their favorite restaurant,
the best bowl of pho,

run you around and
show you the sites.

But everyone seems
to stare at you

when you're sitting
in this thing.

You feel like a bit of a rube.

Here comes Lord Jim.

You know, let's shake him
down for some [INAUDIBLE].

So it's fun if you want to
feel like a pasha or a visiting




a little silly, actually.

But I guess it's
something everybody

should do at least once.

Squid soup.

So this is what the
cyclo driver had in mind?

Chao muc?

Squid soup?


have a distinctive culinary


Each dish balances
considerable style

of the regional flavor quartet--
hot, sour, salty, and sweet,

eaten together in
perfect harmony.

Smells fabulous.

It's good.

Now I'm thinking
squid, what looks

like cut up baguette, actually.

The crouton, cilantro.

This is like a pork blood.

It's a cake made of
just a coagulated--

like the, actually, like we're
going to see in Portugal.

I see it a lot in Europe.

I guess it's just a little
pan-cooked, emulsified blood.

It's fabulous.

So I sit there and eat my
squid soup and watch people

go by their motos, doing the
everyday things they were doing

200 years ago, and will probably
be doing 200 years from now.

There's a cheerful
stoicism and generosity

here in spite of almost
overwhelming history.

It comes home to
you, even when eating

the simplest bowl of squid soup.

But it's remarkable.

I mean, look at this place.

As night falls, every
street in Saigon

seems to be like Sunset Strip.

You've got the same type of
low rider cruise mentality.

And the streets just
completely fill up.

Tonight's destination is
a one-of-kind family-style

restaurant, Com Nieu Saigon.


The first thing

you notice is the sound
of smashing crockery--

typically not a good sign.

My most memorable
host in Vietnam

is the inevitable Madame Gao.

Welcome, everybody.

Oh, thank you.

For you.

This for me?

Thank you Thank you

It's nice to see you again.


I'm happy to see you.


woman is a force of nature.


She's generous.

I'm very happy to help you.


smotheringly friendly.

I love everybody who
comes from New York.

mix of yenta, Jewish mother,

and six cylinder
Gambino family hoodlum.


The operation

she runs is spectacular.

She thought about this
place for a long time

before she opened
it, and it shows.


She looks at the
tiny little details.

The sort of things
a lifer cook like

me notices, a lifer in
the restaurant business.

There's not a corner
of this restaurant,

there's not one hard-to-dust
corner, that isn't completely

squared away like
a naval vessel.

This is a smooth operation.

This is the way to
run a restaurant.


And of course, the clean up
job at the end of this night

must be unbelievable.

In a very Western way,
she's figured out a gimmick.

She's researched traditional
Vietnamese cuisine

and found references to a way
of baking rice in clay pots,

then smashing them open to serve
a sort of crispy rice pilaf.

Thank you.

The waiters keep sending these
sizzling hot rice cakes sailing

through the air at high speeds.

They're received by a waiter
on the other side of the room.

Give it a little bit of
English, flipped up in the air,

cut it into pieces, sauced
with fish sauce, [INAUDIBLE],

and scallions, and
deposited onto your plate.

It's crispy on the outside,
fluffy in the middle,

and totally delicious.

People love it.


It's a lot of fun.

Of all the meals
I have in Vietnam,

Madame Gao consistently
bowls me over.

I always take care
good my customer.

stuff is not only fresh,

it's brilliantly presented.

It's a whole lot
of salt you know?

It's just a attack
of brilliant colors.

Lobster, grilled and bathed
in a sweet paprika sauce.

Crabs, stir-fried
with sweet basil.

Steamed tiger prawns.

The ingredients she's
using are really creative

and really cute.

Oh zucchini flower.


Yes, flowers.

blossoms, stuffed with ground

pork, dipped in
batter, and deep fried.

Was so good.

Fish soups.

I've had a lot of fish soups.

But this, with the
little cockles,

tofu, and dill in
a fish broth is

really imaginative and powerful.

Cuts of pork with
tea-marinated hard-cooked eggs.

Sounds like a strange mix.

It's not.

Everything is so fresh here.

It's crisp.

Really strong, really powerful,
really seductive flavors.

This is a sort of
food that Westerners

who go to Vietnam time and time
again come back raving about.

You know, it's mindblowing.

It's the best example of what
the Vietnamese do so well.

Apparently every night,
it's like a holiday meal.

Oh, you've got to look at this.

A palate cleanser of chilled
mango and custard apple.

If you look around at how
happy people are here,

the expressions on
people's faces--

this makes me wish
I had a bigger

family so I could
bring them all here.

You see new arrivals coming
in on motorcycles and motor


They roll right through
the dining room.



Madame Gao is

a terrifyingly attentive host.

Are you happy?


Every time you
come to Vietnam you

have to come to my restaurant.

Good bye.


Have a good night.

Thank you so much.

Hug and kiss.


Don't forget me.

I will never forget you.

No, no.

But a word of advice.

If you're thinking about copying
her rice and crockery gimmick,

think again.

I would not want to make
an enemy of Madame Gao.

Modern Vietnam
wouldn't be the same

without the French
influence of yesteryear.

I'm on my way to
La Bibliotheque,

a little piece of France
in the heart of Saigon.

A restaurant that
embodies the past.

Madame Dai is a throwback
to the early colonial days

of French occupation.

Bonsoir, madame.


This a woman

who speaks French
fluently, educated

and largely raised in France.

Vietnam's first female lawyer.

[SPEAKING_FRENCH] My law firm.


Who in 1975, when the communists
took over South Vietnam,

turned her offices into a cafe.


Cheers, everyone.

quickly became a meeting place

for visiting dignitaries,
ambassadors, and maybe

a couple of spies.

Oh, incredible.

[INAUDIBLE] right here.

That's amazing.

It's Just incredible.


The pope.

It's extraordinary.

Oh, you have some
extraordinary friends.

after all these years,

there's a whiff of
aristocrat about her.

Her kitchen speaks
of days gone by.

People that work with
her, she mentioned

that one was a nanny
for her children.

I suspect these women have
been with her for decades.

We're having a little
grilled-- this is pork.

A little beef wrapped in leaf.

is a kind of a grape leaf.

Ah, grape leaves.

How fabulous.

And this is rice noodles.


Aw, buddy.

And spring rolls.

Thank you.

This is so wonderful.

It's exactly what we needed.

We were walking around the
heat, overeating all day.

This is so perfect.

These are typical Vietnamese
appetizers and entrees,

presented in a little
corner of France.


This dessert

is a classic creme
caramel, strictly French.

Now this is a taste
of my childhood.

La creme caramel.

I guess I brought that
Speedo along for nothing.

You will be carrying
me out on the gurney.

And of course at
the end of the meal,

she decides to hit us with her
special blend of snake wine.

A special preparation.

I didn't expect

her to come out with
this big jar of snakes

right after my creme caramel.


so many things in Vietnam,

if you drink it, it
will make you strong.

It's good.


Fear not.

I get real strong in the next
few weeks, let me tell you.


Please come back soon.

Au revoir.

There's Madame Dai

in her black dress and
her hair pinned up,

still speaking French, still
in her parlor with her books,

and photographs,
and her memories.

It's yet one of many
really remarkable places

where you can reconnect
with the past in Saigon.


I could eat a snake.

In fact, I can eat a
palpitating snake heart.

In fact, that's exactly
what I'm going to do.


One continually hears about
the mythological stamina-giving

quality of certain
foods in Vietnam,

and cobra heart is one of them.

Huang Rung Restaurant
literally translates

to flavors of the forest.

And you get flavors of
the forest all right.

Roasted field mouse.

Lizard, chameleon, minced bat.

What's a teal?

What I'm going for is the famous
live palpitating cobra heart.

Come on.

Let's go.

This is one of those things
that you just got to do, right?

How about the heart's
still beating, right?

It's one of those
cocktail party stories

that's sure to turn mom green.

I don't like it that the
waitresses are afraid of this.

I want a cobra heart.

This was a destination for me.


Let's eat.

Essentially, they're all
too happy to bring out

a squirming, hissing,
menacing-looking cobra.

Let's do the nasty.

They don't seem to have
their mise en place together.

I have my mise en place together
when I'm making steak frites.

It seems to me, you know, when
you're making a live cobra,

you know, you should have
your operating stuff laid out.

You know, where's the
cutting board, the knife?


You notice the
Band-Aid on our waiter?

A cobra handler
has a large bandage

on his hand, which leads
me to believe that maybe he

was a little sloppy
with the last cobra.

So cobra heart.

They zip that guy open
right in front of you.

They put the beating heart
right into a little dish.

And it's pumping away like
right out of a horror movie.

Hey, come on, man.

Hey, hey, let' go
while it's fresh.

I want it beating.

Cheers, folks.

I feel strong.

It kind of pumps on
its way down too.

It's still ticking.

Don't think this cobra
is going to waste.

It's about to become
a five course meal.

Snake eating has long
been a valued part

of the medicinal
repertoire of Vietnam.

It makes you strong.

All right, cook that up for me.

You know, cut it in chunks,
sear in pan, slow braise.

Now this is impressive.

I'm told that every
part of the snake

is going to be prepared into
a different dish for me.

OK, let's have a shot.


Looking to you.

Cobra heart makes you strong.

Cobra blood makes you stronger.

It kind of tastes
like a Bull Shot,

a Bloody Mary made
with beef broth.

Come on, Emeril.

Right here.

Kick this up a notch.

They seem to have
drained some sort

of darkness, this fluid in here.

It's sort of worst
case scenario.

This is the bile.

You know, I figure
I'd be tasting plenty

of that later at my hotel.


It's a little bit bitter.

Yeah, I don't like
this that much.

Now I though bile
was a bad thing.

Well, in Vietnam,
it makes you strong,

like everything else does.

Apparently bile makes you
really, really, really strong.

My wife tells me
I'm bilious enough.

Let's eat.

The bones of the--

Oh, the bones.

Fried cobra bones, they're
crunchy and delicious.

Kind of like potato
chips, only sharper.

It's not bad.

You know, Yankee game,
seventh inning stretch.

I'm not crazy about
the meat that much.

Mm, tastes like chicken.

The skin is a little rubbery.

It's like sushi.

But the tripes was like eating
condoms still in the packet.

Not that I've done that.

You can chew that whole day.

You're not getting
anywhere with it.

I swallowed it whole.

And of course, the
obligatory cobra soup.

It looks like it's
got some curry in it.

It tastes like
mulligatawny soup.

It's terrific.

How will I ever go
back to grilled cheese

sandwich and Cheerios?

What next?

They brought this
out very proudly.

What the hell is that?

An oversized tree grub squirming
around in all its glory.


All right, he's pretty.

What are we going
to do with him?

You know, I've already
been gargling cobra bile,

and they bring this
along as course two?


There's my grub.

Now, you know, the cobra
guts aren't enough?

I got to do this for the cause?


It's kind of crunchy on
the outside and creamy

in the middle.

Imagine a deep-fried
Twinkie, only smaller.

I don't think I'll be
taking that back home.

It kind of looks like an
Alien 7-- The Revenge.

I wouldn't call cobra or tree
grub everyday local fare.

Do they sell this at D'Agostino?

Not yet.

Eating them is a lot
like some Western foods

that the sophisticated
eat without thinking.

They'll want oysters,
caviar, foie gras.

Maybe eating snakes
and worms only

seems more outrageous because
it's a different culture.

All right.

There are four or
five touchstones

of my Asian adventures.

The palpitating cobra
heart is a must do.

I'm not disappointed.

It's exactly as
exotic an experience

as I'd hoped for,
even a little scarier.

And strangely enough,
I am feeling strong.