Delicacies

It’s terrible to find oneself reaching for a second helping of dog…

We took a two-hour, freezing cold boat ride from Luang Prabang to a Hmong village for Hmong New Year. When we finally arrived, our boat driver/guide took us to the house of the headman, who we were going to stay with. He’s got the only cement house in the village. He introduced us to his two wives, who seemed really pleased to have us. It really is a different world.

During the day, while the village set up for their festivities, we went on a nice hike, meandering around trails until we finally dead-ended in someone’s pumpkin field near the top of a mountain. Very pretty. On our way out to the forest, we passed through some kind of symbolic village gate: a  curved arch made of bamboo with the drying head of some wild cat tied to the top and a paw hanging from each side, at about waist height. I’m not sure what it’s supposed to keep out. Or in.

After wandering around the village and hiking and gawking and being gawked at, it was getting late. We were coming back from a little walk when we had our first encounter with The Dog. We saw a bunch of men around a lit fire, with something big and black smoking on it. As we got closer, we saw that it was an entire, very recognizable dog. They were roasting it whole–skin, teeth, eyes, everything. it just lay there on the fire, stiff, legs out, like a standing stuffed dog that had been knocked on its side. We, of course, made lots of jokes about how that was our dinner. Little did we know…

Photo credit Gabor Teveli

A few hours later, we ate with the headman in his house with our guide. Rice, greens, pork. The food was really good; I could, however, have done without the communal hand-washing tub with its greasy film of dirt and the ancient communal hand drying towel. But when in Rome…

After the meal, it seemed to be hanging out time. The guide said that usually the men and women hang out together, but when guests come they separate. Because I was traveling with a man, I ended up hanging out with the men. We bought a case of beer for the household and sat around drinking beer and eventually, of course, someone busted out a bottle of homemade lao lao (seriously potent lao rice whisky). Shots were poured into a cup and given to each person in turn–protest was futile. After that, they brought out the dog. It was in little bits, marinated and cooked over a fire. We ate them with our fingers. The marinade was good–the meat was a bit chewy. “Old dog” they explained.

At some point—the lao lao makes everything blurry—women and children began to filter into our room. One of the headman’s wives hooked up a TV/vcr in the corner and, amazingly rapidly, the whole village arranged itself in the room, children on the floor, women standing in the back near the door. The VCR operator pressed a button, and the night’s entertainment commenced–Hmong karaoke videos. Many of them. Girls dancing in a field, shakily filmed. Stars performing on what looked like a state fair stage. Hot pink lyrics running along the bottom of each scene. Offkilter camera angles. It was loud and strange and charming. But the dog, beer, and lao lao formed a potent sleeping potion, and I was relieved when the electronics were packed up, the table dragged aside, and I could sink down to sleep. I’ve never slept so soundly on a concrete floor.