One of the things I look forward to on any visit to foreign soil is the chance to experience local cultures and taste local food. This goes very much into the extreme side of things ¨C fetishes and bizarre foods. I watch the show Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmerman on cable TV, dreaming of sampling those foods. Everest watches the show with me, but well doesn‘t dream.
Once considered a Taipei must see, nowadays Snake Alley, aka Huaxi Street Night Market is more of a window into Taiwan’s less enlightened past, when the live skinning of reptiles for the benefit of passing tourists was considered an appropriate form of cultural expression. In decades past, Taipei dwellers might bring their visitors from abroad to Snake Alley and express mild amusement as their foreign guests squirmed at the sight of a local merchant baiting a cobra with a hooked metal rod before slitting its belly and offering the foreigners a shot glass of snake bile mixed with Kaoliang liquor.
The snake meat ends up in soup or stir-fried with vegetables, while the blood is mixed with liquor, a cocktail said to be good for virility and a host of ailments.
There were a handful of eateries with snake on their menu, some looking more luxurious than others, but we chose to pop into this very authentic eatery, which had the head chef standing at the front of the shop, over cages of live snakes.
We knew we had made the right choice when he skinning a live snake in front of a crowd! Note of warning though that this is definitely not something for the squeamish; the snake continued to writhe as the chef slit along the belly of the reptile, removing organs and draining the blood. The writhing continued as the snake was hung up for more blood to be drained.
The inside of the stall was adorned with jars of snakes and snake parts on shelves, and the walls were plastered with photos of well-known guests who had visited. There were even pictures of a Taiwanese movie that was filmed in that very stall.
We ordered what was called a 5-item set meal:
1. Snake blood mixed with Kaoliang liquor.
2. Snake venom mixed with liquor.
3. Snake bile mixed with liquor.
4. Snake penis and semen ground into a capsule.
5. Snake meat and clear soup.
Here is my report card on the snake tasting:
The blood was almost tasteless and only the consistency was thicker than water.
The venom had some stronger taste and had a light tingling feeling in the throat.
The bile was just slightly bitter.
The privates were swallowed down in a capsule with the bile.
Snake meat tastes and feels like a blend of chicken and fish, with many many bones embedded in it.
Did you know that a snake has anywhere from 150 to 500 vertebrae, and each of this has a pair of ribs?
It was thus quite a challenge to get all that meat out from all that bone.
Another interesting facet of this neighborhood is that, until a few years ago, it was a legal brothel district. For this reason, Snake Alley is also a good place to find sex shops selling herbal aphrodisiacs, sex toys and Viagra.
Address: Hua Xi Street 华西街
Nearest Metro Station: Long Shan Temple 龍山寺站
For the traveler with stomachs of steel, whilst the faint-hearted companions can stay in the hotel and watch Barney on TV, or shop the adjacent streets for Sponge Bob T-shirts.