First, let's get my nasty little confession out of the way. Because I have done something that many would regard as abominable. You see, I have eaten dog. Not by accident, you understand, nor was I stranded on polar ice and forced to eat husky, but in a restaurant where I made a reservation and consumed the best three-course meal they could offer. And I am not ashamed.
It happened in Hanoi before Christmas. I had time on my hands before catching the night train to Saigon. The Reunification Express is one of one of the great train journeys, but it is a marathon, not to be undertaken on an empty stomach. Then I heard about the city's 50 or so dogmeat restaurants.
Although the habit of eating dog is not so well known as in Korea, a meal of thit cho (dogmeat) is believed by the Vietnamese to be warming, convivial and to bring exceptional good luck. Half a kilogram of dog a day, according to the best academic research, apparently heals all wounds. And what was more, this was the 27th day of the lunar calendar, the most auspicious day of all. How could I not give it try?
The man at the hotel reception could hardly believe what he heard when I asked him the address of the best dog restaurant in town. No Westerner had ever asked such a thing, he said. Word spread fast, because when I arrived in Nghi Tam Avenue, on the bank of the Red river, I was clearly expected.
A dog restaurant is like a cross between a gym and and a temple. You take off your shoes and sit on a square mat facing the east. I gagged slightly at the pervading smell, slightly sweaty, slightly gamey. (Was that acid smell the tang of urine?) But it was not, as I'd presumed, full of old men pursuing some fogeyish ritual. Next to me was a young couple obviously having a romantic night out. Across the room a group of what seemed like university students chatted over green tea.
But what about the ethical hurdle? At home I normally follow a vegetarian diet, not for any moral or health reason other than a vague concern about modern farming methods. Could I contemplate tucking into man's best friend? I remembered the dog that went missing in Saigon in Graham Greene's The Quiet American ("they eat chows here, don't they?"). And I couldn't get out of my mind the image of a little curly tail I'd seen on a dog being butchered in the market that morning.
But Duong, the owner, told me that his dogs weren't stolen. They came mostly from a small long-haired breed raised on farms and used as pets or working dogs before they came for slaughter. (Well, yes, free range in a sense.)
So I ate. But only after a couple of large gulps of beer and a firm attempt to banish all thoughts of 101 Dalmatians, Lassie or David Blunkett's dog, Lucy. The first course was sliced cold dog, which tasted a bit like lamb. Then there was the hot dog sausage, which was quite nice. I was forced to admit that I quite liked the kebabed dog, which came covered in a pungent spicy sauce. It was only when a girl next to me took pity and offered me a lesson in eating a plate of shin bones that I started to feel queasy. But she assured me that the offending smell was the plate of dried fish sauce that I had to dip it in.
Even so, I felt vaguely guilty. Was it Western squeamishness? Clearly not. Anti-Vietnamese protesters in Thailand in the 1980s used to carry banners saying: "Dog-eaters, go home." But surely it is no worse than eating horse in Paris or alligator in Havana. I have even consulted the work of that great arbiter of animal ethics, Professor Peter Singer. Yet I cannot find any logical reason for regret.
In the meantime, I would advise Sven Goran Eriksson not to eschew the chance of a dog dinner in Seoul during the World Cup this June. Remember the luck, Sven. You may need all you can get.