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Friday, May 7, 2010

Snake alley, Huaxi Street, Taipei


Following my new year's resolution, I've been nagging my girlfriend for a while to bring me to a snake restaurant in Taiwan. I said I wanted to try the snake soup. I thought it would be a fun adventure and a great topic to blog about. I was so wrong. I mean, it's interesting to blog about, but the dish itself didn't tempt me. Dear readers, I'm sorry that I torture your guts with poop and frogs, but I can't help but share the famous snake alley with you. It's a small night market in the old part of Taipei, that attracts a lot of tourists. I try not to ramble too much, so let's get to the point.

SNAKES AS SNACKS? If you want to try the snake soup in Taipei, you can go to a famous night market called Huaxi Street Tourist Night Market 華西街觀光夜市, located near the Longshan Temple. You can see the main entrance of the market above. This one is meant for the tourists, not the locals, so you'll see quite many foreigners there. It's also known as Taipei's Snake Alley, because there are numerous restaurants that sell snake blood and snake soup. So we went to check that out.

The main alley of the Huaxi night market. Not as many people as at the Guangzhou.

A snake restaurant like many others.

WHAT DO YOU SEE: A snake hanging on the left, while people at the back are eating snake soups. In the middle is an uncle with the microphone talking, while few young people, who want to try the snake blood, wait to get their sip. On the right are people gathering to see the "show". I've seen at least four of these snake restaurants here. Usually there's an uncle talking and promoting his restaurant, trying to attract people. I have no idea what exactly he was saying, but he was talking a lot. It's interesting that all the snake shops ask you not to take photos. So when I first came to this one, I haven't noticed the warning and initially took a lot of photos, but then the uncle saw me and asked me to stop. I followed his request and just observed. So was everyone else. But I'm glad I made few pics. Soon there was a crowd of like 10 people gathering around the uncle and watching his "performance".

At the right side of the shop's entrance: snakes.

And more snakes... I think those are only displayed but not eaten.

ABOUT KILLING SNAKES: As you know, I was all eager to try the snake soup. But then when I saw how the snake got killed and I changed my mind. Yep. Let me clarify: I don't judge anyone who kills snakes and sells their meat. For me snakes are not pets, same as frogs, chicken, pigs, cows, lambs, ostriches and who knows what other wild or less wild animals eaten by humans. Sure, they can be pets, but they're not pets per se. That's how I see it. So yeah, I guess I'm weird in this regard. Truth is: Had I not seen the snake killed in front of me and seen the blood freshly dripping out and served as a drink to people, I most likely would've tried the snake soup.

HOW IT GETS KILLED: The uncle took the snake by the head and slammed it against the desk few times, so it lost conscience. And then he took a knife, cut it open and hung it on a small string (as seen below). The blood slowly dripped out, while the snake was still twitching a little. That's the part that gave me goose bumps and made me reconsider my decision. I felt very uneasy. So if you go there, please be sure you're ok seeing this, it's not for the faint hearted.

Bleeding snake on the string, click here to see a close-up photo>> [Think well, it's gross!]

SNAKE BLOOD: After that the uncle took a small glass and filled it up with fresh snake blood. That was a bit of a surreal experience. But well, I thought to myself: I'm seeing something in real what I usually see on Discovery. Slowly my right leg changed from goose bumps to numbness. That's the part where I said: "Ok, thank you very much, that's it, the show is over for me... bye bye." Of course the eventual drink is mixed with alcohol, to make the blood thinner and kill all the bacteria.

Uncle pouring the fresh snake blood drink. I would never try it. Thanks but no thanks.

Snake blood looks like strawberry juice here.

Youngsters drinking the blood. Respect!

These young most likely local Taiwanese really drunk the snake blood - a whole small glass in one long sip. I was just like: "Wow." Kudos to them, brave men (and a woman). It's said that snake blood increases your sexual power. Do you believe that? I guess it was a kind of a dare for the guys, they must have set some bets before they came to this place. Anyway, I won't eat snake meat or drink snake blood any time soon (probably never), how about you? Besides, I heard the meat is chewy and there are a lot of small bones in the soup. You can see a photo here.

Snake blood, pro or contra?

▷ BLOG NAVIGATION: Taiwan>> Taipei Travel Page>> Food in Taipei>> Wanhua District>> Snake Alley

24 COMMENTS:

That's good stuff right there. Drink, drink, drink! :P

@Chris: I certainly would not :P

I can't even look at snakes without shivering in disgust and fear, never mind eating/drinking parts of it! XD

omg >< i remember i drank it before when i was a kid o.O well i was forced to drink it actually... yeah last picture---> looks like malaysia's ribena juice.. NT$150 a cup? not expensive ya

I'm glad you decided against it. I was going to ask how they killed the snake.. It doesn't look like they are being treated very well.. Living in those small spaces. And to die in such a way.. I don't really have a lot love for snakes, but they are living creatures and eve if they can't think they can feel pain. I will never understand why people feel the need to inflict pain on animals, it just so cruel and completely unnecessary. Why can't they just chop the head of?

hahaha I have those exact same pics!! I didn't mind the snake blood cuz it was mixed with other things that it didn't taste like snake blood. The soup was good but snake is a bit boney for me hehe

FUCKKKKKKKK -______________________-
omgggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg -____________________________-
call me chicken if u want but this is the stuff nightmares are made of

I'm thanking god that most of the pictures could not load for me!

@Kit: Yep, it gave me the shivers, too.

@fufu: ah, poor you. But how's your sexual power? Did it increase? Haha.. that's what they tell you to make you buy that strawberry juice :P

@Carina: Well, I'd probably eat the soup, if I hadn't seen the scene before, because meat is just meat, cut in pieces, that would not disgust me. But I just couldn't, I was a bit shocked, hehe. I think they don't chop the head off, it may bleed to much. He somehow slowly extracts the blood and fills up a small glass, the blood drips slowly.

@Julie: Wow, you were here at the same market? Cool. You're much braver than I am, hehe. Kudos to you.

@Manju: Ehm.. sorry "-_-

@Nashe: You had divine help :)

mmm... I cut my finger today and I spent a good half an hour sucking at my own blood, which I love by the way... BUT... snake blood? no. thank you. My God you have guts! :-DDD

I seriously think SARS came from Asian when someone ate a wild animal and it wasn't cooked properly or something - and the virus transferred from that species to ours. So I avoid eating anything that's not typically farm raised here. Even then, there's so many chemicals put into farm raised animals that I sometimes wonder if it's slowly killing us all :(
Have you tried blood pudding? I haven't. It's another trend in Asia - you can get it at Asian supermarkets. I'm not sure what's up with Asian folks eating wild exotic animals and claiming it's great for your sex life, health and longevity. Asians will tell you ANYTHING to sell it to you. Sex sells. So does health food/weight loss products. It turns me off. I just like regular Canadian food :)
I'm surprised how thin the consistency of the snake blood is too. It looks like fruit punch! I thought it would be thicker as well.
Well, I hope you have a lovely weekend despite this crazy snake blood start!

Oh my god, I'm never trying that ! This is just plain disgusting for me :/

@daisy: Haha.. same here. Thanks but no thanks.

@Karen: Haha.. I'm planning to write about what Asians say about the food they sell, it's good for this, it's good for that, hehe. Everything's special :P I tried blood pudding, yeah. Not really my cup of tea. I hope you mean the one they serve with stinky tofu usually. It's so soft, which sometimes creeps me out a lil. Thanks. I'll have a great weekend, I'll be going to South Taiwan. :)

@Carine: Haha.. I can't stomach the snake blood myself, too :)

snake blood? ah, it's very common here in Indonesia.. usually the snake blood will be mixed with cola, whyski or vodka, to reduce the awful smell..
for people who want smooth skin, free from acne, and all of other skin problems, drink that. It's VERY EFFECTIVE, I can say this because my auntie did that years ago.. :)

for sexual power, maybe yes because snake is a hot-blooded animal, but the side-effect is making your body feels really hot (abnormally lo). I don't like snakes, so I think I'll pass for this one, hehe.. :P

beautiful shot of the city in the first picture! and wow, did you ever drink the snake blood?? or try the snake? this is the kind of thing that make people vegetarian! i'm actually considering keeping it up after the temple stay...

I went there and did drink it. They also have a soup with the snake meat. Can't recommend that one though: It's 50% tiny bones and a pain to eat.
And yeah, I heard it should be like a type of natural viagra-like medicine. That's why there was a street for prostitutes further down the alley before. You can still see it, but now that kind of thing is illegal.

I don't think it's that cruel. Many animals muscles will still move a bit after they're dead. You'll see the same thing happening with eels for an example, but I don't think it's that bad. The snake is already dead (or at least too unconscious to feel anything anyway) so I don't think it's all that bad. There's worse things in this world. Have you seen a western style chicken factory?

Anyway: I went to a store and asked if it was okay to take pictures before I took any and people said it wasn't a problem.
If you want to use my pictures, feel free - as long as you don't use them for anything fishy such as commercials or try to take ownership over them. :p
Here:
http://boonbot.com/photos/sander/week27/IMG_0867.aspx
(If you click the location-link in Image Info: Snake Alley, then you'll see all the pictures I took there.)

@Ceecile: Wow, thanks for enlightening me on snake blood. I was a bit doubtful of its effects, hehe. But still, I rather not try, especially after what you told me :)

@Floreta: I wrote in my post, that I haven't tried snake blood nor snake soup. :)

@Sander: Oh, I know about that red light district, my girlfriend told me everything about that Longshan area :) Oh, glad you told me about the bones, I don't like to eat fish with many tiny bones, let alone snakes.
I saw your photos, thanks for sharing, your pics are great as always, but I won't use them, thanks a lot for your offer. I think the ones I posted here should suffice for now. My 'snake' topic is covered :)

per your last picture: you don't just drink the raw blood. it's actually mixed with sufficient alcohol to kill the bacteria and other potentially toxic elements.

@Anonymous: Thank you. I updated the post to make that clear.

Hi! I discovered this awesome blog post while doing research to find the REAL names of the places I used to go as a teenager living in Taiwan. I spent time in Taipei with my missionary grandmother between the years of 1989-91 (back when the Snake Alley area had a sinful reputation, just before prostitution was made illegal).

I visited Snake Alley whenever I could make it into the city. I love, love, LOVE snakes, so the market was an extremely sad place for me. However, I would work out a deal with the owners of the killing booths: They would provide me with non-venomous snakes to hold - sometimes two or three at once - and I would stand next to the shop simply interacting with the reptiles. The sight of a light-haired American girl handling snakes would draw crowds of at least a hundred people within minutes (I'm not kidding!). Once everybody had gathered to watch me, the snake guy would grab up his microphone and begin his spiel (which, naturally, included lies about who I was and what health problems his snakes had cured in me). In exchange for putting on my "show", the proprietor would allow me to take few snakes back to my rural home for release.

I don't know if my method of "snake rescue" helped the problem or actually made the situation worse for future captives, but it gave a animal-loving little girl a feeling of accomplishment.

Thanks for a great blog!

@Mack: What an interesting and touching story! I hope some snakes have had a better life after your release. Thanks for sharing. I'm happy you like my blog :)

Thanks for the blog, very interesting and most of all informative. I am glad that you talked about how they kill the snakes. I was going to go but know now that I cannot visit this place...

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