Thursday, September 8, 2011

Don't Drink the Kool-Aid

The oldest night market in Taipei, Huaxi Street, is also known as Snake Alley.  Once a legal red-light district, the two-block pedestrian walk is now home to shops, street food stands, and massage parlors.  Oh, and snake specialty restaurants.  
After wandering up and down the street a couple times, we decided to sample the local delicacy at the only shop that appeared to be selling snake.  “Snake Alley” didn’t really seem to live up to the name.  Maybe because we were visiting in the afternoon instead of after dark (this is a “night market” after all), but the place wasn’t all that lively.  No shop owners were baiting, killing, and draining snakes of their blood, as was promised in my travel guide.  Booo.  Not that I’m into seeing animals die, but when you have expectations.....
Anyways, the shop that DID have snakes out front also had a sign demanding “No Photo! No Photo!”  Actually, I think it just said, “No Pictures Please,” but in my head, I was back at the Sistine Chapel being yelled at by angry Catholics for taking pictures of the ceiling (right, Lani???).  I think maybe killing snakes for show is illegal, so they don’t want evidence?  I don’t know, but they didn’t care about me taking pictures of the results once we were inside the restaurant at the table.
We ordered the sampler platters of snake and turtle excretions.  Yum.   We were served a smorgasbord of snake blood, snake bile, snake venom, snake soup, snake oil pills, and some other unidentifiable snake concoctions.  I think one was vodka made from snakes.  It burned.  One may or may not have been snake urine.  

Mmmmm, snake juice.

The snake soup was interesting.  The actual snake meat tasted, excuse the cliche, like chicken.  But it was riddled with bones, which made it nearly impossible to eat.  I spent more times picking snake cartilage out of my teeth than actually eating the snake. 

Check out those chopstick skills
The snake blood tasted like hawaiian punch.  I think the whole thing was a bit of a tourist trap.  Oh, and I didn’t die from the snake venom, so that’s a plus.  Guess I’m immune now. 

Pinkies up with the snake blood

The turtle soup was a little sad to eat; the little turtle bits floating in the broth were too recognizable as a once-living animal.  They also served us turtle blood (again, hawaiian punch), turtle mystery juice, and small balls that could have been turtle eyeballs, testicles, or poop.  Not sure which.

Turtle death plate
As we sat enjoying the novelty of the reptilian meal, I thought for sure this place was intended for other Westerners looking to live on the edge with some sketchy consumables.  But looking around, I noticed a couple Taiwanese people sitting at the tables with trays of snake dishes and drinks as well.  So, maybe this was authentic?  
I don’t think I’ll be itching to go back to Snake Alley for another round of snake shots in the immediate future, but perhaps the place is more impressive at night.  Good thing I have a year in Taiwan to journey back and find out!

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