Hanoi (AsiaNews) - Despite an official ban by the authorities, cat meat has become a new favourite snack in Vietnam.
Cat's growing popularity is particularly worrisome for cat owners who live in constant fear of seeing their pets disappear. A healthy and medium-to-large size cat sells in Hanoi for US$ 50 and 70, more than the average wage of a farmer.
For consumers, "It's sweeter and tenderer than dog meat' and it is perfect with a cold beer.
At a restaurant in central Hanoi, a cat is prepared for hungry clients: drowned, shaved and burnt 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," the establishment's manager To Van Dung, 35, told AFP.
Officially, Vietnam has forbidden the consumption of cats in an effort to encourage their ownership and keep the cities' rat population under control.
However, such is the demand from restaurants that cats are sometimes smuggled across the border from Thailand and Laos.
Vietnam's penchant for eating animals that are considered pets in many other countries came about largely as a result of circumstance, said Hoang Ngoc Bau, one of Hanoi's few trained vets.
"The country was 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."
Chef Le Ngoc Thien, who has a cat at home as a pet, agrees. He keeps a cat as a pet - but when it is big enough he will cook it and get a new kitten to repeat the cycle.
"When my cats become old we kill them because according to our tradition when a cat gets old we need to change it and get a younger one," he said.