Viets’ love for ‘little tiger’ has pet owners in fear of the cat snatchers
The enduring popularity of "little tiger" - cat meat - as a snack to go with beer in Vietnam means pet owners live in constant fear of animal snatchers, despite an official ban on the delicacy.
At an unassuming restaurant next to a car wash in central Hanoi, a cat is prepared for hungry clients: drowned, shaved and burned to remove all fur before being cut up and fried with garlic.
"A lot of people eat cat meat. It's a novelty. They want to try it," said manager To Van Dung, 35.
Vietnam banned the consumption of cats in a bid to encourage pet ownership and keep the rat population under control.
But there are still dozens of restaurants serving cat in Hanoi and it is rare to see felines roaming the streets - most pet owners keep them indoors or tied up, fearing cat thieves. Such is the demand that cats are smuggled across the border from Thailand and Laos. Dung said he buys his cats from local breeders and so-called cat traders, with few checks on their sourcing.
"Little tiger" is enjoyed at the start of each lunar month, unlike dog meat which is eaten at the end. On a busy day, the restaurant can serve around 100 clients. "I know in the United States and Britain they don't eat cat. But here we do," Nguyen Dinh Tue, 44, said. "I don't kill the cat. But this place sells it so I like to eat it." Vietnam's taste for cats and dogs was mostly a result of circumstance, said Hoang Ngoc Bau, one of Hanoi's few trained vets. "[We were] once very poor, and we had a long war. We ate everything we could to stay alive," he said. "Insects, dogs, cats, even rats ... it became a habit."
Dramatic societal changes in the once tightly controlled communist country in recent decades mean a growing number of Vietnamese now share Bau's love of animals. But old eating habits die hard and pet owners are battling to protect their furry companions from the dinner pot. "No one is breeding dogs and cats for slaughter. So nearly all the animals in restaurants are trapped and stolen," Bau said.