Friday, April 14, 2006

Rice Wine, Snake Wine, and the Mekong Delta (NW)

My wife and I just returned from a trip to Hong Kong and Vietnam. It was a fantastic experience and we really enjoyed, in particular, the Vietnamese culture. While touring southern Vietnam and the Mekong Delta area, we had the chance to taste our first wines of the trip. Well, I'm using the term wine liberally. This stuff was moonshine; quality moonshine, though, of which the Vietnamese living in remote fishing villages and orchards seem to produce tons.

Several times, we were offered tiny thimble-sized shot glasses from which we'd sip on various rice wines and other digestives that had a little kick and burn. No Riedel stemware here, just the thimbles. And the wine was poured either from clay jugs or small plastic (former) water bottles. Some had lemony-citrus notes, some were like strong cola, and others had a smooth Scotch-like quality. For the most part, they were delicious in very small quantities.

Obviously, they produce a wide variety of wine and fortified wine. But the star of the show was the snake wine. These wines are poured from glass jars that have a spigot at the bottom, similar to how iced tea is stored and served. Inside the glass jar, a medium-sized python or cobra is coiled up tightly, soaking in the wine. It looks like a snake in formaldehyde from the science museums I remember as a kid. The wine comes out orange in color and is taken once or twice daily in very small quantities as a medicinal wine to fend of illness.

Wow! A very different approach to wine from my daily routine of choosing red or white. It was fascinating to see how this is part of the culture in the Mekong Delta. I highly recommend a trip there and will be assimilating my experiences for a long time to come. Raise a glass!

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