Eye of frog, wing of bat, rattlesnake and tail of rat, in the hotpot they must go! Just some of the delicacies found in Guangzhou!
This may sound like something out of a child's storybook, but, I am absolutely serious, in the short time I've spent in here I've sampled them all, but the most superior by far, is snake.
I was invited to a restaurant, nationally renowned for its snake dishes called Xin Li Zhi Wan, it's in Tianhe on Tianhe Bei Road, inside the Guangzhou China Mayor Plaza building, and there are another six restaurants in the chain all over China.
For me, this was to be the third time to try snake, so feeling like a bit of a connoisseur I was looking forward to sampling it again.
The consumption of snake and snake-procured products has been a long-standing tradition among the Chinese, who believe that there are specific health benefits to be gained from eating snake, which also simply tastes great.
Snake's blood and bile is considered a male aphrodisiac among Asian men young and old. I know a few friends who recently dined at a snake restaurant that serves this foul sounding concoction, before they went out for a night on the town!
In addition to making a man virile, it is also supposed to be good for the eyes, lower spine and as a relief for fatigue. A small glass of straight blood or snake blood/bile alcohol is served similar to and average shot of your favourite tipple. Most people tend to go for the gan-bei (bottoms up) rather than savor the taste, or appreciate the bouquet of this beverage.
You will also find in many shops, bottles of the local rice wine which contain a whole snake, this is usually drunk for medicinal purposes. Don't try to carry a bottle of this through customs, it will be confiscated.
Stricter laws and, perhaps, a greater sensitivity to animal cruelty issues means that most high profile establishments will not serve snakes blood these days, but if you determined, seek and ye shall find!
Snake is still a specialist culinary dish, especially in the west, and it is advised to go to renowned shops and restaurants. If you're traveling in China it's a must try, as you will pay extortionate prices elsewhere.
Xin Li Zhi Wan, is highly recommended to first timers and it's where you will find the more experienced locals. It offers a wide variety of dishes at very reasonable prices (prices dependent on season and weight of the snake). You'll find picture menus too and will be able to view the snakes, but it may be worth taking someone along who speaks the lingo then you'll be sure to get exactly what you want.
The manager took us straight to the snakes, they specialize in two particular types, and the first is a local snake called simply water snake. We tried this sauted with soy sauce and some other special ingredient, it was very different to what I had tasted previously, usually fried on the bone with little meat, or skin served in various ways. This time the bones had been removed and the meat was extremely succulent and sweet, you can really taste the snake meat. It has a very unique flavour. The dish costs approx.68 yuan. In the past people have said to me that snake tasteds like chicken, it doesn't! That's like comparing bat to beef, trust me, they do not taste similar!
The second type of snake Xin Li Zhi Wan serves, is imported called sea leopard snake, it comes from Thailand. We tried this in two different dishes, the first I thought was just deep fried leopard snake. But as the chef informed me, it is a very delicated process, in which the snake was first prepared in a salt and pepper sauce for 10-15 minutes, then deep-fried to seal the sauce in around the snake. The crispy outer layer complemented the sauce and didn't overpower it, while retaining the flavour of the meat, which had a stronger taste than the water snake.
The third dish was the leopard snake hotpot, I was informed that this is a dish famous nation-wide, traditionally it is served with fresh vegetables and rice noodles. The snake is flavoured with a combination of different herbs and spices, the most prominent being ginger garlic, peanut sauce, sesame oil and chillipepper. The dish is served with chestnuts, dates and BBQ pork which all kept their own individual tastes. The snakes itself was complimented by the different flavours and very tender. Each leopard snake dish costs approx.200 yuan.
Every dish was of a very generous proportion, and so I chose to da bao(take out) what we couldn't finish. Snake is as good served cold as it is hot, and makes an excellent midnight snack!
(Southcn.com December 5, 2002)