Toad Bumps

A toad hopping through Lựơng’s aunt’s house in the Mekong Delta.

A toad hopping through Lựơng’s aunt’s house in the Mekong Delta.

When my husband was in middle school, he tried to get the neighborhood boys to help him catch toads to make toad soup. The other kids were scared to touch toads because they thought they would get warts. I heard that myth growing up, too. But in Vietnamese the word for warts even has toad in it.

Trying to get the correct translation for warts to write about this childhood expedition to make toad soup, I found toad pimples (mụn cóc) in the Vietnamese dictionary. Lượng shook his head. Where he grew up in the Mekong Delta, they called them toad bumps (mục cóc). Pimples are for your face, he says. Bumps are everywhere else.

My husband knew eating toad soup could kill you if you didn’t clean the toads correctly. When toads feel threatened, they excrete a milky white toxin called bufotoxin on their skin. The toxin comes from glands near the head. It doesn’t harm human skin, but eaten it can cause cardiac arrest. Dogs can get poisoned by eating toads (they might encounter them trying to eat from their food bowl). And every year people poison themselves by eating toad’s eggs, potions made from toad, and toad soup.

The boys in my husband’s story were right to be wary about picking up toads—but being afraid to get toad bumps from them wasn’t the reason. “Toad Soup” is part of my in-progress collection of stories Ten True Tales from Nine Dragon Delta.

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