|Snake Soup - John Lok|
|Written by John Lok|
|Tuesday, 14 April 2009|
Snake Soup, and its history in Hong Kong. Currently there is a decline,
a dwindling number of snake soup shops being whittled down by
beureaucratic procedures and supply problems.
Snake Soup Feature – Decline of the Snake Industry since the 1980’s
The master chef swiftly chops off the head of the snake, tossing it into a container where other grisly remains remain. A fly buzzes around, filling the room with its whine, in contrast to the bottles of “snake wine” that stand throughout the dark room, flavors leaching out the reptiles into the wine. He takes a small knife lengthwise to the snake, gutting it and saving the meat before finding the egg repository and scooping out the white beads and puts them into a bottle, to sell as alternative medicine. Not surprisingly, there is no guarantee of effectiveness present.
The master chef grabs a bunch of beheaded, gutted, egged snakes and starts chopping them up into edible ribbons. This is the meat that eventually goes into the soup. It tastes a bit like chicken.
He tells a joke – “Why were Adam and Eve not Chinese? Because they ate the apple and not the snake,”
Master chef owns a shop in Sham Shui Po, Apliu Street.
Snake soup or shie gung(??) is a traditional Chinese concoction, made from ingredients such as shredded fungus, snake meat, chicken, abalone, lemongrass leaves, mushrooms and fried dough. It is generally eaten in winter, in the period from November to late March, and is believed to be “warming to the heart”, says Wong Zhi Hei, 38, regular customer of snake soup. However, Rachel Suen, 19, studying Fine Arts at the University of Hong Kong, said that “it warms the stomach,” debunking this particular traditional Chinese superstition.
Apart from the meat, other parts of snake are also edible as well. Edible does not necessarily mean tasty, but snake blood is believed to be a libido enhancer, according to the manager of a snake soup shop on Mong Kok’s Dundas Street, who only identified himself as Leung. Snake blood is usually drained from the snake when it is still alive, similar to draining chicken or pig’s blood.
Snake soup transcends the spectrum of social statuses – you will find sitting in a bare bones Chinese tavern with chairs spilling out of the mouth of the shop, businessmen, students and old tai-tais, all enjoying their share of Chinese cuisine.
“Snake food used to be good business,” said the manager of the shop, Leung. “Back in the 1980s, you could measure the amount of snake being eaten by the tonne. Now you’d be lucky to see more than a hundred kilograms,” he said. “Nowadays there are simply too many procedures for business to be efficient enough to be profitable. When I need snakes, there aren’t enough. When I have enough snakes, there aren’t enough people to buy them,”
The steps to acquire snakes are a factor that has contributed to the decline of the industry. When a retailer needs snakes, he needs to first apply for a government permit from Hong Kong. After this, the retailer needs to go in person to Beijing, to acquire a federal permit. After the processing time of this particular procedure, the retailer has to then apply for a permit in the province that he wishes a shipment of snakes from. All this bureaucratic fluff deters many snake soup shop owners. “Snake soup shops only close down now. Nowhere will you see someone creating a new place,” Leung said.
Only a handful of shops remain in Hong Kong, due to the exotic nature of the product they serve. During the SARS period, the mainland Chinese government banned exports, in answer to concerns over the spreading of SARS due to wildlife. “In the heyday of snake food, [not just snake soup but also products]such as snake balls, snake congee, there were as many as fifty shops in Hong Kong, with every restaurant offering snake food. When it was winter, people simply could not get enough of this stuff – you’d have to buy a ticket and get in line for your fix of snake. Now I believe there are less than 20 shops all around Hong Kong,”
Snake soup costs roughly 20-30 dollars per small rice-bowl, to get a taste of the delicacy. For the full experience get the 40-50 dollar larger congee-bowl. Take strips of lemongrass leaves and sprinkle to taste with fried dough on the top. Snake soup shops can be easily identified by the generic name “shie wang” (Snake King), ??. Shops can be found in Causeway Bay, Wan Chai, Mong Kok and Sham Shui Po. For Wan Chai, try the hawker’s market behind the computer centre, Tai Yuen Street, Number 7. In Mong Kok, go to the intersection of Shanghai Street and Dundas Street, opposite the 24 hour Wellcome.
Are you prepared to step out of your comfort zone? Have a nice bowl, mister.
|Last Updated ( Friday, 01 May 2009 )|
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