Xin Chào Dông Chí, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dragon Chicken

BY: Jen W| June 3, 2024
Xin Chào Dông Chí, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dragon Chicken


I awoke before my 7am alarm on Friday, and quietly, as to not disturb my roommate, I threw on my sweatpants and made my way from building 11 to the main dining hall for breakfast. Today was the day I had been waiting for, today we visit the chicken farm.

After breakfast (a light pho, yogurt, half a banana, and rich, Vietnamese coffee) all of the delegates dressed for the day, and gathered outside in a slight drizzle to be picked up by two Communist Party of Vietnam government vans. We loaded up, sitting in the same spots we had taken every day this week, and began our 90 minute journey out of Hanoi to the Hung Yen Province.

This was our most exciting trek of the week. We were led by Vietnamese motorcycle police and two blacked out Toyota Camrys, one carrying high ranking Party member, Comrde Son, who we had met earlier that week at the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organization discussion and luncheon as well as Standing Vice Secretary of the Provincial Party Committee, Comrade Tran Quoc Toan. Workers and families along the rural drive came out to see our motorcade zip by, wondering who these important guests could be.

We arrived at a beautiful little farm, and were rushed to a very long table with a blue tablecloth and plastic cups for water. It was still drizzling around us, but the countryside was green and vibrant with the sweet smell of grapefruit flowers hanging in the air. The discussion began immediately, and I took notes as quickly as I could.

Comrade Son answered questions, and along with Comrade Tram, helped translate between our delegation and Comrade Toan and the owner of the farm which we were visiting, whose name I failed to record. Our delegation had tons of questions about agricultural collectives and family owned farms. [See an article explaining collective farming in Vietnam here.]

When the discussion ended, we were each handed full body PPE including a blue, long sleeved, hooded, zip-up jumpsuit, medical face mask, and itty bitty booties to go over our shoes. We looked amazing. This. Is. Fashion. I was giddy with anticipation.

Once geared up, we followed single file away from the home, down a hill, and around a pond where we got sprayed with some sort of disinfectant, twice. Then we stepped through a pan of cleanser, and into the large building housing hundreds of dragon chickens.

We stepped into the chicken house. Barn. Massive coup. I’ve been around chickens before, but never hundreds of chickens, and these birds were chatty! It was so loud and alive in there with the gossipy clucks of dragon chickens. The smell of ammonia hung in the air, and I made a point to check on the vegan comrades who were struggling around hundreds of chickens destined for slaughter.

The first row we walked passed was all roosters. These are big boys. It is difficult to put into words how special these birds are. In the gym, we often joke about men who skip leg day, but these roosters must be hitting their squat and deadlift goals regularly – thick legs, thick feet, thick toes. Don’t forget the ladies, though! The hens must be hitting the gym just as hard as the males. Our translator, Tram, explained to us that the hens must be artificially inseminated, as the mass of their legs makes unassisted copulation difficult.

We exited the chicken house, were again sprayed with disinfectant, and entered a barn full of young chickens. It was interesting to see that the baby chicks looked like your average chicken. Next to them, though, were the teenagers. At this stage of development, their large legs begin to grow, and you can see that they are dragon chickens. We left this barn and walked back to the main building where we posed for a quick photo op.

After saying goodbye to the farm, we hopped in our vans, and back into motorcade formation to travel 30 mins to a museum. This beautiful museum told the history of the Hung Yen Province with special exhibits on long nhãn, a tree fruit indigenous to the area, and the dragon chicken. This region is known for agriculture, and the displays told that story.

As this was the seventh official day of the Hello Comrade delegation in Vietnam, we knew that following the educational part of the day, we would be treated to an official luncheon. We walked into an incredible hall full of balcony meeting rooms used by the Provincial Party. After a brief gift exchange when we were presented with a gorgeous red vase and bouquets of ten orange roses for each of the women – it was International Women’s Day, after all – we entered the dining room.

Each round table sat eight comrades, and consistent with the rest of the week, I was seated at the “big kids” table. This included comrades Amiad and Arturo as well as comrades Phan Ah Son and Trân Quôc Toà. At the center of each table, was a large metal serving dish of chicken, and on top of the cooked meat, was one whole leg from a dragon chicken. Comrade Trân used his chopsticks to lift the chicken leg which he took to his own plate to slice into pieces. He gently placed one piece of dragon chicken leg onto each of our plates.

As this is my personal story, I would like to inform you, dear reader, that I have been a vegetarian for 19 years. When I learned that I was selected for this Hello Comrade trip to Vietnam, I broke my diet to acclimate my body to eating meat again, because I did not want to deprive myself of any of the local cuisine. At this point in the trip, I had eaten beef, water buffalo, pork sausage, squid, fish, and regular chicken with no issue. Chicken dishes in Vietnam are often served with a dipping side of MSG, red chili, and lime, which is now my favorite condiment.

So did I eat the dragon chicken? Of course I did! The leg of the dragon chicken is considered a delicacy, historically reserved only for royalty. This was such a special meal presented to us by our CPV hosts. I was, however, given a toe piece. Did you know that chickens have toenails? They do. My rule in life is that I will try anything three times, and I had my delicious MSG dip ready to go. I took three bites of the dragon chicken toe, and set it to the side of my plate.

The rest of the meal consisted of local vegetables, meats, and seafood. Comrade Phan brought a bottle of rice wine. I learned that “wine” and “liquor” translate as the same word in Vietnamese, and this wine was certainly what I would consider liquor. It looked and smelled like nigori, but was much, much stronger. One of our comrades liked it so much, he was gifted the bottle from Comrade Phan, which many in our delegation enjoyed later that evening.

Although this arguably may have been our most memorable meal of the delegation, we were treated to local cuisine every day of the trip. Ha Long Bay offered two very special meals. Our first night in the Bay, we attended a state dinner hosted by Trinh Thi Minh Thanh, deputy chairperson of the provincial party committee of Quang Ninh Province. There we were served steak from local cattle, pumpkin soup, fresh steamed vegetables, melons, and a local delicacy called squid cake. We also got to sample locally produced red wine and a purple herbed liquor called ruou thuǒć which reminded me of Chartreuse. The next day, after a three hour tour of Ha Long Bay, we had lunch at a local restaurant which sources most of its menu from the Bay itself. My favorite dish of this meal was DIY spring rolls featuring a large, whole fish.

When the official delegation ended, I stayed in Hanoi for another week to explore on my own. This, of course, mostly entailed eating everything I could fit into my mouth. I tried several different types of soup and pho, dumplings, Hanoi speciality, bún chà, and all the local ways to drink coffee. Vietnamese egg coffee is now my favorite way to consume the beverage.

I spent an evening at a speakeasy called Sip, which is hidden down a dark alleyway, up some sketchy stairs, and around a corner. It was early on a Monday evening, and I was the only customer in the bar. The staff spoke English really well, and we chatted for hours as I sampled local Vietnamese gin. The climate in Vietnam is not appropriate to grow juniper berries, but they are imported whole and distilled locally. From what I remember, I very much enjoyed these cocktails. I also introduced the bartender to my favorite band, Queen, and he taught me how to lie about my age in Vietnamese – “tôi hai mươi tám tuôi.”

It has taken me several weeks to write this simple article, because it is impossible to convey the sights, smells, flavors, and emotions of Vietnam through this medium. It was truly a life changing experience. I will be forever grateful to our Communist Party of Vietnam hosts for allowing us to experience their country in this way, and for being patient with this group of silly Americans trying to graciously eat the incredible meals served to us. We learned so much about modern socialism, military history, Ho Chi Minh Thought, and collective agriculture. We were shown that a better world is not only possible, but that a better world is happening, right now, only a sixteen hour flight away.


Images: by Jen W/



    Jen W is an activist in Austin, TX

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