Snake Wine

Economy-size jugs of snake wine are sold at a stand near Ho Chi Minh City.
Economy-size jugs of snake wine are sold at a stand near Ho Chi Minh City. (Snake Wine By Peter Mandel; Other Photos By Anne Mcdonough -- The Washington Post)

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

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Snake Wine

What is it? Bottles of "medicinal" rice wine with dead cobras preserved inside. You got a problem with that? Sometimes you'll see a pickled gecko or sea horse instead of the standard coiled reptile. One container I found was packed with bees.

Where can you buy it, and how much? Available nearly everywhere in Vietnam, snake wine is often made by villagers filling up leftover brandy or Perrier bottles. The jug I bought at the Hanoi airport contained three lizards and cost 335,000 dong, or almost $21. (Okay, I admit, this tempting item cost slightly more than my souvenir price ceiling. But I couldn't resist.)

Why would you want it? Scary for drinking, great for display. The snakes are preserved in action poses; the wine is as pink as a nice rosé. "That," someone told me, "is because of all the blood in there."

Reminds you of Vietnam because: In a country known for old-world superstitions, this is the perfect elixir. "Makes man strong!" said my guide, Tuan, when I asked why you would drink this. But when I downed a glass, there was no Viagra effect. I felt sleepy, not strong. The taste was mysteriously bland, like licking envelope flaps or stamps.

Downside: Might leak in your suitcase. Also, the bottle I bought listed "ethanol" as its main ingredient.

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© 2007 The Washington Post Company


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