Snake soup: Hong Kong’s perfect winter warmer

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 November, 2013, 2:35pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 November, 2013, 2:35pm

Chau Ka-ling opens a wooden drawer and deftly picks out a big snake for an elderly customer. She puts it in a cloth bag and lets him hold it to feel its weight. The customer’s satisfied, so Chan takes the reptile from the bag and runs her thumbs along its body until she feels its gall bladder.

A quick incision and she retrieves a small sac that she puts in a small bowl. Then Chau disappears into the kitchen, returning with the decapitated snake and turning it upside down to squeeze some blood into the bowl. She pierces the gall bladder sac and mixes it with alcohol before giving it to the customer, who downs it quickly with a satisfied grin. “I like to have it, when it’s in season,” he says.

The gall bladder is said to improve virility, and to stop coughs.

This is Shia Wong Hip, a well-known snake eatery in Sham Shiu Po. There is a steady flow of customers all afternoon for not only fresh snake gall bladder, but also snake soup that Chau makes in the evening and simmers overnight. As winter approaches, locals like to eat dishes that warm their bodies, and snake soup is just the ticket.

Every batch is made with 30 catties of snake meat and bone, pork bones, two old chickens, Jinhua ham, black fungus, ginger, lemon leaves and mandarin peel. “The black fungus is for the blood, mandarin peel is to get rid of the gamey taste, lemon leaves for the smell,” Chau says.

She encourages us to eat the soup while it’s hot: “When the soup is cold, it has that smell. Eat it now.” She serves herself a bowl, and in no time it’s empty. “I want an encore,” she says before downing another bowl.

Read the full story in 48 Hours, out on November 21