One man’s poison is another man’s meat

That is what I amounted to say yesterday, when I put up  a post about eating poisonous snakes.

I, and most Chinese do, find that snake meats or snake soups tasteful and good for health. I can understand that some people feel otherwise.

A few of my friends found the said post distasteful (see the reverse pun). If I have  caused uneasiness to them, I must apologize.

If you are an ophidiophobia (snakephobia) or you find snake soup not your cup of tea, or bowl of soup,  please skip the next post.

Kill a cobra alive and make a cuisine out of it

Killing snakes alive and selling them in a food market is a rare heritage in Hong Kong. When I was a small boy, which was some 40 years ago, it was very common to see a snake shop operator killing a bunch of snakes one by one alive in front of a crowd and pulled the gall bladder out from each of them and sold to any person who was prepared to pay the price for that. The person who bought a gall bladder would eat it fresh in front of a crowd. A snake gall bladder is known for its bitterness and fishiness. I, like many people at the time, when Hong Kong had few entertainments, enjoyed watching it, especially when I saw a gall bladder eater’s face crumpled after swallowing it. Such person’s look was like the first time you drink a Guinness stout.

You cannot see such scene in Hong Kong any more. So when my good friend,Tom from the US, and his son came to visit me and wanted to see a live cobra killing act, I thought he was asking for the impossible. I did a Google search on the subject and called a few snake shops in town and the answers I got were  “We don’t do that any more”. I did not get anywhere until I called my taxi-driving uncle and he told me to try the “Snake King Hip” in Shumshuipo, Kowloon.

So on we went to this Snake King Hip, which is a little shop tucked behind a bunch of electronics shops on Apliu Street, Shumshuipo, a street known for its electronics flea market. The shop was at that time filled with local customers. Some were sipping their snake soups from their bowls. When I made known the purpose of our visit to the girl in the front of the shop, she went to the back and came out together with a diminutive cute girl whose name is Kaling.  She is the owner of the shop. I could see a few of framed pictures of her, hanging on the wall, together with some local celebrities and international television networkds and newspapers. She is dubbed the Snake Queen of Hong Kong. She inherited the business from her father, the Snake King himself.

Kaling said she would do the snake killing at a fee, which varied according to venomousness of the snakes. We settled on a cobra. Kaling then took us to the back of the store. Inside were stacks of cabinets containing assortments of each types of snakes. Kaling pulled out a lace bag from the cabinet appropriately labelled “poisonous snakes”. Inside the bags were a number of cobras, some of which already had their heads sticking up. Kaling pulled one of them out and wrapped it around her hand. She held the snake head still and with a pair of pliers she pulled the teeth of the snake out.  According to her, once the teeth are pulled, the poisonousness of a snake would be removed. She then threw the snake down on the ground to make it passed out. She then cut a hole around the “throat” of the snake and pulled out the gall bladder, which is black and about the size of the tip of a baby finger. She put it in a bowl for us to sample later. Then with a knife she sliced the skin of the snake and pulled the whole skin out. The killing process took about 2 minutes. I saw it with the same amusement I had when I saw such act as a kid.

As for snake dishes, Kaling prepared a plate of deep fried snake meats (not the same snake killed on the spot), which tasted something between chicken and fish meats. It went down well with a bottle of San Miguel. In addition each of us ordered a bowl of ready-made snake soup.

Snake soup is a popular winter food in Hong Kong. It is said the soup would keep the winter doldrums away as it generates body heat. The soup is filled with chicken, snake, abalone, mushrooms, pork, herbs and liberal amounts of ginger. It is often sprinkled with chrysanthemum leaves, which are believed to aid the vision, and they add a certain sweetness to the dish. Crackers are also supplied. As for a snake gall bladder, if eaten raw, is said to have high medicinal values, which include increasing body circulation, curing rheumatism and osteoporosis, and some even consider it as an aphrodisiac food.