I hate snakes. I’ve always hated snakes. A few months ago, I saw one in my garden and I screamed like a little girl. I never imagined snacking on a snake, but when in Taiwan you gotta do as the locals do, so I head to Snake Alley Taipei!
We arrive at Snake Alley in Huaxi Street Night Market on a Saturday morning after visiting nearby Longshan Temple. Unfortunately, we find Snake Alley pretty deserted on a Saturday morning and find it really doesn’t open up until late afternoon. Luckily, there is plenty to do on a Saturday in Taipei, so we entertain ourselves exploring the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park and return to Snake Alley at around 4 pm.
The Snake Alley area was once famous as a red light district of Taipei, where prostitutes hung out. It’s been cleaned up and recent animal cruelty laws have been passed so it’s not quite as much a “show” as you might expect and there are only a few restaurants that actually serve snake.
But, luckily, we manage to find a snake restaurant at this popular Taipei night market!
Snake Alley Taipei – Round One: Snake Soup (and Body Fluids)
We choose the cleanest looking of the snake-serving restaurants and order the Snake Sampler Platter. This platter comes with very specific instructions on proper consumption of the snake body fluids:
“Take the snake blood, drink half, then pour in the wine and drink half, then pour in the ginseng”…. and down the line through snake poison, snake penis wine, and finally snake bile. After that, she instructs, we’re to swallow the snake oil capsule, and then eat the snake soup.
So, taking a deep breath, I dive in first. I take a big gulp of the mixture of snake blood and snake wine, trying hard to hold my breath while swallowing. The liquid burns a little going down and has a “snakey” aftertaste that I try hard to ignore. (Honestly, it’s pretty disgusting.)
We choke our way through the body fluids course and I’m feeling slightly buzzed from the strong wine. My face is also buzzed, feeling slightly tingly and a little flushed.
The main course is next – the Snake Soup. I decided to focus on the snake meat, assuming it will “taste like chicken”. I find it’s very bony and kind of tasteless, not as “chickeny” as I expect. The broth is also kind of bland, more like a chicken soup broth.
Snake oil products are often used in Chinese medicine and reportedly make the skin softer. You can actually buy snake oil skin products on Amazon! I’m not sure if consuming snake fluids made my skin softer, but it did make my face more sensitive. For the next four days, even the gentlest moisturizer burned the skin on my face, especially around my eyes. I’m really not sure if it’s a reaction to the snake fluids or just a coincidence.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars for the cultural experience
0 out of 5 stars for taste
Taipei Night Market Round two: Stinky Tofu
Stinky tofu is a very famous Taiwanese dish and something I’ve been smelling since my arrival in the country over two years ago. In my opinion, it smells a little like dirty feet but the Taiwanese love it. After conquering Snake Soup, I’m feeling daring and decide it’s finally time to get over my fear of Stinky Tofu.
We wander through the market for a bit and then opt for the deep-fried version, crunchy on the outside and sort of cheese-like on the inside. When smothered in the spicy sauce, it honestly isn’t as bad as I had feared. After mocking this dish for two years, I almost even like it!
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Taipei Night Market Round Three: Gua Bao
Gua Bao is often considered the Taiwanese version of the American hamburger and, unlike the first two courses, this is something I’m actually excited to try. A freshly steamed bun is filled with a concoction of green vegetable-like stuff, pork (with fat or without), cilantro, and sprinkled with peanut powder. My Taiwanese friend orders it with fat, I choose the fat-free version and I absolutely love it! This is something I may become addicted to once I find a Gua Bao supplier in my neighborhood.
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Taipei Night Marker Round Four: Rice Sausage
One of the most popular night market foods in Taiwan is the traditional sweet sausage, which I’ve tried in the past and have loved. Rice sausage sounds a bit boring but the Taiwanese have a way of making even the simplest ingredients interesting. My Taiwanese friend loves rice sausage so I give it a try. Sticky rice, spices, and nuts are stuffed into a sausage casing, sliced, and served with pickled vegetables. Simple but surprisingly delicious!
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Taipei Night Market Grande Finale: Ice Cream Burrito-like thing
I first discovered this treat on a recent weekend in Jiu Fen and loved it. A tortilla is sprinkled with peanut powder, three scoops of ice cream, and a dash of cilantro then rolled up and eaten like a Mexican burrito. The first time I tried it I ordered it cilantro-free, not sure about the cilantro and ice cream combination. Since I’m feeling daring after the snake soup, I try the cilantro version this time and love it! Strange flavor combination but incredibly delicious!
(No photos available – my hands were busy.)
Rating: 5 stars out of 5 (I LOVE ice cream!)
Taiwan is known for delicious food and it’s taken me a while to understand the obsession. People often stand in long lines at a Taiwan night market for a taste of their favorite dish. While I usually avoid standing in line for anything, I’ll consider it for another Gua Bao or Ice Cream Burrito. I guess I’m finally starting to get it!
Getting There: Take the Blue Line to Longshan Temple, Exit 1. Snake Alley is just west of Longshan Temple.
Looking for other highlights of Taipei – check these out!