Posted by: adventuressetravels | June 22, 2012

What Aesop’s Hare has Really Been Drinking?

“That’s a turtle!” my travel partner exclaimed.

I turned around and sure enough, standing at one of the long wooden benches, a man held a turtle on its back; an enormous butcher’s knife lay beside it on the tray.  Feeling my stricken gaze on his back, the man turned around.  With a smile, he picked up the unfortunate turtle to present it for a picture.

As soon as he was sure I had gotten my photo op he laid the animal on its shell and prepared it for slaughter.  As hard as I tried to tear my eyes from the grizzly scene, I couldn’t look away.  Taking the knife, he sawed the creature’s throat open, and with a deft movement tipped it over a funnel, emptying into a large glass mug.

When the creature was fully drained, the butcher handed the mug to a waitress.   Who, with a slightly nauseated expression, emptied the blood into plastic bottle filled with a clear liquid:  They were making turtle’s blood juice.  The waitress passed the bottle to the patrons sitting at the table who poured the cocktail into clear shot glasses.  Not only did they get the honor of turtle-blood shots, they got a show: meeting and seeing the life drain out of their turtle victim.

I sat paralyzed, my Western sensibilities outraged:  why had they done something like that to a poor innocent little turtle?  My travel partner and I hypothesized it probably had something to do with virility.  Most of these things did, he remarked.

Still, watching the turtle killed in front of me and then drunk up with gusto was painful to me.  I liked turtles.  I wanted to know more:  what motivated people to practice this ritual?  And so I started asking around and researching on the internet.

The internet didn’t give me anything on drinking turtle’s blood in Vietnam, but according to Chinese medicine, turtle blood is thought to increase athletes’ strength, speed, agility, and performance.  In fact, many Chinese athletes drink it daily during training.  Though Westerns are on the whole skeptical, much of the East apparently believes in the blood’s properties.

Cuong, my Vietnamese friend told me a slightly different story.  Scoffing at the medical property story he told me that although there were claims that the blood was beneficial to health, but that wasn’t the main reason Vietnamese took turtle blood shots.

Turtles are extremely rare in Vietnam.  So rare, that one average-sized turtle can cost from $200-500 USD.  A large one could cost thousands of dollars!  According to Cuong, in Vietnamese culture the wealthy believed that they should reward themselves with the most unique and precious items.  Eating endangered and highly prized animals fell under that category.

Being partial to turtles, and pretty against extravagance especially when it may drive species into extinction, I think that drinking turtle blood is one cultural tradition I will forego.  If I can help it I will avoid witnessing a turtle sacrifice.


  1. I Ching began with reading the patterns on the shells of turtles but had to switch to jarrow sticks when the species became extinct. What’s the moral? Doesn’t an Aesop’s fable usually end with one?

  2. Unfortunately I fall short of Aesop in that respect. I’m not sure what the moral of this story is.

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