Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Random Asianess: Eating Snake

Enjoying the Night Market Atmosphere
Last time I wrote about our trip to Huaxi Night Market in Taipei. This week I wanted to write about the “Snake Alley” Restaurants. In the past there had been a number of them but as of this last month there are only two snake restaurants still serving snake in at Huaxi Night Market.

Recently, two friends and I went to “Snake Alley” to try out this food. Things have changed there quite a bit. The restaurants no longer do “snake shows.” The snake shows showed a number of things. They would feed the snakes mice and rats. They would handle the snakes and finally, they skinned the snakes, alive. As I’ve said these are no longer done. There have been a number of complaints to the government by animal rights activists on behalf of the snakes. The government no longer allows the snakes to be mistreated.

Those restaurants no longer allow you to photograph the snakes or the people. In fact, at one of the two restaurants the owner was so hostile toward foreigners and photography that he didn’t want us to come to his restaurant. We were greeted with a refusal to speak to us and some pretty severe looks. The other restaurant welcomed us but still insisted that we take no photos of the snakes or the rats.

We tried three types of snake meals. We ordered snake soup. Snake soup is served with a cup of blood. They also gave us cups of snake venom, snake wine, snake oil and snake reproductive parts. The snake sellers believe that snake has many medicinal purposes. The man told us that snake oil is good for your throat and sinuses, joints, overall vitality and just about everything else. In the US they used to call people selling cure-alls “Snake Oil Salesmen,” one can only assume that this is why.

Snake is also considered to be an aphrodisiac. The problem with this is that the fried snake that I had was cooked with so much garlic that I smelled like garlic for a couple of days. This is not exactly romantic. So the question for the ages is this: Can the aphrodisiac properties of snake over come the turn-off properties of smelling like garlic for multiple days.

Snake Soup

The snake soup was a thin broth containing two small pieces of snake. It was served with the blood, venom, oil, snake wine, reproductive parts and two small capsules of medicinal snake oil. As a meal goes it wasn’t much.

Fried Snake

I wanted to try something different. I was interested in the snake meat. I wanted to know what it tasted like. You know the old saw, “It tastes like Chicken.” Well, that’s sort of accurate. It is a lightly flavored meat, with roughly the consistency of chicken. It was actually a bit tougher. The snake was served with some green vegetable and a spicy (And extremely garlicky) sauce. I enjoyed the taste; in fact, I thought it was very good.

Snake Skin

We also tried snakeskin. It was served in a sauce similar to the sauce used for the fried snake. But the difference was that it was very chewy. It reminded me a great deal of the taste and consistency of squid. It was also heavily garlicked.

A Very Young Ma Ying Jiu (right) and His Cook
There was one other interesting thing about this particular restaurant. In it they have a picture of a very young Ma Ying Jiu (Taiwan’s president) with his arm around a guy in an apron. We asked the owner what the story was behind the photo and he told us that the man was a cook who had gone on from cooking in this restaurant, to be Ma Ying Jiu’s private cook. I can only assume that President Jiu is a huge fan of garlic.

Other posts you might be interested in:

Eating My Way Through Taiwan:  A Traditional Restaurant
Eating My Way Through Taiwan:   Japanese Barbecue
Taiwan Travelogue:  The Traditional Market

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