Warning: This article may be NSFW as it depicts the killing of a snake both in writing and in video format. One animal was definitely harmed for the production of this article, so if you are squeamish, possess a feeble heart, yada, yada, yada.. just don’t read this. You know the drill. BUT, if you are here for the weird foods, the heavy metal atmosphere and want to see some ophidian homicide because it excites your curiosity, then you should definitely, DEFINITELY continue reading about our take on this ancient Chinese tradition.
When it comes to the “unorthodox” use of “bizarre” creatures for medicinal and culinary reasons, the Chinese definitely hold the record, and I doubt there is a better place to experience this exotic part of Chinese culture than in Guangzhou. China is a land of possibilities, and in the good ole Goat Town the words “Canton” and “Can’t” are for westerners only. Which takes us to the feat of strength itself…
I first heard about the process of drinking snake fluids while watching Zane Lamprey’s Three Sheets show, more specifically – the “Three Sheets to Taipei” (S02E06) where the host drank snake blood, bile and venom mixed with Taiwanese Kaoliang sorghum liquor. Later of course I was introduced to the concept of “snake wine”, which is basically drowning a starved snake in Chinese baijiu (“white wine”) which is distilled from God knows what.. A lot can be said about the market for such exotic liquor, and just a quick Google search will send you to shady Vietnamese website who swear to cure your impotence with just a shot or two of their snake soaked spirits. However, whether you agree with the concept of stuffing potentially rare snakes in liquor-filled bottles or in the claims that snake wine is good for a man’s virility, one thing’s for certain: the drinking of snake fluids in one way or another is definitely a South Asian cultural phenomenon and has been a thing for many, many, many centuries. What many claim to be just a tourist thing to do is actually an ancient tradition, so let it be known that from the process of acquiring the snake to its actual decapitation and ingestion of its blood I never had any regrets, doubts or second thoughts. It’s just the way I do things. Feel free to share your opinion on the subject in the comment section below, though.
WHERE: The best place I was told to look for a snake was at the Huayuan Night Market (lit. “flower garden“) which is just a couple paces from the Fangcun Station on Line 1 of Guangzhou Metro. Huayuan is basically your typical large Chinese market, which means that you are greeted by lots of textile and clothes stores as soon as you enter. Don’t let that fool you, though, because at the very center you will find people beheading and cleaning chicken held in cages, captured turtles, frogs, enormous gutted fish, fresh cuttlefish and squid, skinned rabbits and tons of other meat hanging on hooks, and, as luck would have it, snakes. “Reggie”, for that is what we named our snake, was a Keeled Rat Snake (Ptyas carinata), a large, non venomous snake which was easily 6ft. long and was trapped in a yellow net bag. All in all, after a quick weight in by the excited merchant of snakes we had to pay around ¥180 which is less than $30. He had a pretty nasty wound just below the lower half of his slithery body, which I quickly (weeeell, maybe not that quickly) identified as a puncture wound from which his gallbladder had been removed. Snake gallbladders are very sought after in China for their medicinal purposes, so I assume the snake merchant had it removed and then sold for quite the profit.
I’m sure we could have haggled for the price, but we were way to excited as well, so we quickly double bagged the snake and stuck Reggie in my messenger bag, and you bet I carried this snake in my bag during rush hour on the Guangzhou Metro. Believe it, because it happened.
HOW: Once we arrived back home we let Reggie relax in a colander placed in the sink and some people freaked out a little.The baijiu we bought was one of the more expensive ones we could find. Came in a relatively cool bottle, and from the Luzhou region in China which I guess is famous for its “wines”. We dropped ’bout ¥160 for a 500mL, 52% ABV bottle of the stuff, though I doubt that our choice was of any importance anyway, because baijiu is utterly and horrendously vile both initially and aftertaste-wise.
The rest was easy, I guess. We donned latex gloves, I held the head of the snake with tongs, and my friend did his best to decapitate the snake with a prolonged, crunch-emitting cutting motion with a brand new, very, very sharp Japanese knife. Here, you can view our escapades and be a part of the excitement and more than a generous dose of panic as Reggie’s mouth kept on opening and shutting much to the dismay of our female partners in crime.
It took a while for the blood to start pumping out once we cut out the head, but as soon as we lifted the body we were set. We poured the baijiu “wine” as the blood was trickling down the jar and once we got it all out we gave it a very thorough stirring. There were some tiny chunks of snake in the mixture – we should have used a strainer or something. Though I showed relatively no fear and I had no nightmares from the experience, I have to say that the smell of snake is pretty… well, specific; specifically oily, earthy and pungently putrid.
Not only is it bad, but it is nigh impossible to remove from the various surfaces, and once mixed with the dish cleaner scent it got even worse. I still associate the smell of dead snake with the dish cleaner. Can’t wait for it to be done and over with so I can buy a new one… <_<
There are more ways to drain a snake, of course. One method I have seen is to simply create a decent incision from just below the head all the way down to the still beating heart and then drain from there. Whichever one you prefer, really.
THE TASTE: Quite honestly, the Brouwerij Huyghe Delirium Tremens Belgian Strong Pale Ale [8.50% ABV] I had at a “mom and pop” craft beer store in downtown Taojin tasted more like blood with its very distinct lingering aftertaste of iron (pretty much just like tasting the blood in your mouth after a busted lip, or after a trip to the dentist) than our concoction. All we ever tasted was the baijiu, which had the typical “it will put hair on your chest” initial taste and aroma, followed by an aftertaste that can only be described as “burning”. Like sniffing burning plastic with your mouth and then tasting it through your nostrils (Author’s Note: the sentence is correct as is) as your body is desperately trying to destroy all the evidence of the crime you just committed. It is deplorable and sickening, and that’s coming from someone who always raises an eyebrow when people brag about their homeland’s “undrinkable liquor”. I almost regurgitated it all out after the second shot just because of the horrible aftertaste.
As for how it went down… I was just fine – it was no different than drinking a shot of any other high proof alcohol. Some said that it left a sensation of hit in their stomach, one of the girls who had a shot of it a week or so later was fine, then threw up hours later and felt ill, but the other imbibers were perfectly fine.
I recommend bracing yourselves by drinking baijiu and “getting used to it” before you do the shot of baijiu and snake blood, and also just don’t let the whole snake blood thing get inside your head.
Would I do it again? Yes, of course. We plan on repeating this in a couple of months as my friend’s brother comes in Guangzhou to visit, though we will make sure to use vodka or some other kind of alcohol that will not obscure the taste of snake blood. Because we are crazy like that.
I also skinned, gutted and cleaned the snake a couple days later and so far we’ve used one half of the meat to make some seriously herbalicious dumplings, so obviously we didn’t buy the snake just to drink its blood. That would have been very wasteful.
And so it goes here in Guangzhou: One weird creature at a time, never a dull moment.
I Can’ton get enough.
Yeah, I know. Shut it. 🙂