The Year of the Snake slithered into Shanghai last week, whetting appetites and tempting the city's cautious middle classes to fork out some hard-earned cash for a taste of the dish. Local eateries reported brisk business, particularly at Spring Festival dinners, when thousands of snakes were boiled, fried, steamed and munched. Chen Yufeng, 43, a self-described entrepreneur, ordered 1kg worth of king snake, at about 200 yuan (HK$185), for his family's traditional supper. 'My parents have never eaten snake so I wanted to treat them to one in the New Year,' he said. It was all part of the mainland's peculiar policy of holiday economics, the Government's sporting pact with its citizenry to increase consumer spending by having everybody take more holidays. If local statistics are to be trusted, Shanghai residents went on a buying spree during the Lunar New Year, forking out some 2.4 billion yuan, at department stores, boutiques and restaurants over the first seven days of the holidays, a 40 per cent increase over last year. But with fattened city dwellers wobbling back to their workplaces, restaurateurs say Shanghai's fascination with eating serpents has been short-lived. Yu Zhigang, deputy manager at Shanghai Renjia Restaurant, which cooks five types of snake, said the reptile trade already has fallen back to where it had been during the Year of the Dragon. Most Shanghai residents just do not like the creature. Many share the views of barber Li Gensheng, who said he was too afraid to eat one. And though the amount of snake meat eaten in the city has surged in recent years - total annual consumption is about 1,000 tonnes - it remains a fraction of that consumed in the south. In Guangzhou, restaurants such as Chock Full O'Snakes have been serving between 600kg and 700kg of snake each day since the start of the year. 'Guangzhou is a city of eating,' restaurant manager Li Jun said of his booming business. 'And in Guangzhou, people eat everything.' What has been most surprising about Shanghai's cautious plunge into strange culinary waters, however, has been the reaction it has provoked. Led by Shanghai Zoo, which opened an exhibition this month under the banner 'Don't Eat Wild Animals, Encourage New Concepts in Eating', a subdued campaign against eating snakes has emerged, admonishing citizens against eating reptiles caught in the wild. Researcher Ma Jifan said people's fascination with eating wild creatures, together with rapid urbanisation, was quickly shrinking the number of snakes in Shanghai's countryside. 'The growing popularity for eating snakes is the primary reason for the thinning population of snakes,' he said.