Coconut worms, harmful pests found living in coconut trees, are still being sold and consumed as food in Vietnam, despite prohibition efforts by authorities.
The larvae of coconut worms can be made into butter- or flour-fried dishes, or, infamously, eaten alive after being dipped in chili fish sauce.
Such dishes are immensely popular among epicures in Vietnam, elevating coconut worms to the status of a specialty in the Mekong Delta.
However, once coconut worms mature past larvae, they transform into a natural enemy of the coconut tree, flying from one tree to another, drilling holes in their trunks, and leaving them to gradually wither and die.
Damage caused by the pest prompted Vietnam’s Plant Protection Department to have banned the raising and trading of coconut worms since 2001, though acquisitive traders and curious foodies continue to sell and consume the worms.
Dung, a coconut worm supplier in Ho Chi Minh City, claimed that he is currently supplying coconut worms to 12 local restaurants, with each eatery receiving an average of 500 larvae per batch.
Most of Dung’s coconut worms are consumed by diners in the southern metropolis, but he also receives orders from customers in Hanoi.
Dung sells the worms at a price of VND5,000 each for orders under 50 larvae and at a discounted rate of VND4,000 apiece for bigger orders.
Y, another supplier, asserted that he could provide coconut worms at a cheaper price of VND3,000 for orders above 50 larvae.
When asked whether he has been inspected and penalized by local authorities, Y answered that the ban is only strictly observed for certain areas in the Mekong Delta with heavy coconut tree populations, and loosely enforced elsewhere.
Nguyen Van Dung, deputy manager of the plant protection department in Ben Tre Province, said that despite the ban, locals still trade coconut worms in secret due to their high prices.
“Other coconut-growing provinces like Tien Giang, Vinh Long, and Tra Vinh have begun stricter enforcement of the ban, for mature coconut worms have the ability to fly and breed in different regions,” Dung said.