I keep hearing about people eating iguana, monitor lizard and goanna on my travels, and I've only had it a couple of times before, both times simply barbecued.
It's nice and meaty with white flesh that has a fair bit of chew to it, so I thought we'd lash out and try one at a local restaurant in Danang tonight – Iguana cooked three ways.
And why not try some cooked with a few different flavour, prepared in the local style?
In Vietnam the local name for iguana is "Ky Da".
Just so you know what to ask for, the pronunciation is "kee daa". Bear in mind however, I'm pretty much the last person in Southeast Asia that you would want to ask about Vietnamese pronunciation.
The first restaurant we went to was a place called Nhu Y on Xo Viet Nghe Tinh Street.
Don't ever go there!
They had smallish lizards and a shocking attitude that almost brought out the Gordon Ramsay in me.
The place was a little dark, dingy and smoky and the young, arrogant t-shirted guy at the front was rude and unwelcoming.
After determining that no photos could be taken (as paying guests – of the place OR the meal) and that we weren't welcome either way, photos or not, we hopped back on the bike and went for a drive.
Why spend money where you're not appreciated or taken care of? Life's too short!
Rooney, one of the guys at work recommended a different place called "Da Ben Bo 2" on the East side of Danang along the waterfront near the Metro Bridge.
I'm SO pleased that we didn't sit with Mr Grumpy in the first eatery, putting up with attitude in his concreted shed.
This second venue was clean, light and bright and situated on the bank of the Han River.
The owner greeted us with a warm welcome and set us up on a nice table, then a cheerful, friendly waitress came and set us up with beer, ice and peanuts while we chose our meal.
The menu is great. They've got a varied selection of regular and exotic meats, and the place was very well patronised by local guests.
I was the only foreigner, and we received the same high standard of attention and service as everyone else. Nice.
This place also had iguana – but these were large, meaty ones.
In fact the first one they brought out looked like an extra that wandered off the set of Jurassic Park.
It was a bit big for two of us so we said "next time" and looked at the other options on the menu. I could have used it for a buffet!
About 5 minutes later he wandered back with a slightly smaller one for our inspection.
I asked about serving style, and it would be done in three ways.
- Deep fried crispy skin
- Barbecued legs
- Braised with galangal and lemongrass
It sounded good, so I agreed to the hefty $40 tab and off it went to the kitchen to experience Simba's circle of life.
A pleasant wait was broken with conversation and people watching over a couple of beers.
The staff at this place were so lovely, and joined many tables for a drink and a chat.
Regardless of food, I'd be back just for the manager, staff and atmosphere.
Fortunately the food was also a winner.
Iguana skin is wrinkly, thick and lacy,not unlike my double chin.
Deep fried it was crunchy and delicious, with a similarity to crispy salmon skin. It was incredible with beer as a snack.
It came with chilli sauce and mayonnaise (a default condiment on almost every Vietnamese restaurant table), but I'd imagine that a nice smoked salt, lemongrass salt, prickly ash salt or five spiced salt would be magic sprinkled over it.
I loved this dish, and would recommend it. Eating iguana skin is the perfect complement to a few chilled cans. Just do it!
Next up was a gruesome reminder that our dinner was walking around just 30 minutes before.
They had skinned and barbecued the legs and the feet it was walking around on.
The meat was delicious. Moist with a bit of a chew, but I wouldn't describe it as tough.
Very similar to frog, and it came with a fantastic salty sauce.
Normally the Vietnamese table is set with a mixture of salt and black pepper and a wedge of lime.
The lime is squeezed in the salt & pepper, and food is dipped in it.
The sauce with these charcoal-grilled iguana legs was enhanced with pureed mustard leaf and the result was sublime. Max flavour that complemented the meat perfectly
Last but not least, the braised iguana done with lemongrass and galangal.
The sauce was a little oily, but the meat was delicious. It was all on the bone, and did take a while to come out, but was worth the wait.
The skin and meat had great texture, again like a chicken/frog/snake cross – but the skin cooked in this style was soft and added moisture and character to the dish.
At the end we were full, content and feeling well looked after.
Nobody 'speaks' English, but 2 of the servers and the manager spoke some English, thanking me and welcoming me back as best they could, and checking it was OK.
After we paid and left, the manager came running over to shake my hand, ask where I was from and check that I enjoyed it.
Such a hospitable place, so if you are passing through Da Nang, or staying here, please give it a try.
Hell, ask me and I'll join you for a beer or a bite.
I'll be a regular.
They have baby veal, stir fried, country style chicken and a plethora of other options, so I can see this becoming a local haunt.
Here is a photo of the sign so you have all the contact details on hand.
If you've tried lizard, snake or something similar, share with us in the comments below.
How was it cooked, how did you like it?