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 headed to Snake Alley in Taipei!
We arrived at Snake Alley in Huaxi Street Night Market on a Saturday morning after visiting nearby Longshan Temple. Unfortunately, Snake Alley is deserted on a Saturday morning and really doesn’t open up until late afternoon. Fortunately, there is plenty to do in Taipei on a Saturday, so we entertained ourselves exploring the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park and returned to Snake Alley 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 we found one…
Round One: Snake Soup (and Body Fluids)
We chose the cleanest looking restaurant, ordered the Snake Sampler Platter and received specific instructions on proper drinking 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 instructed, we were to swallow the snake oil capsule, and then eat the snake soup. Simple really.
So, taking a deep breath, I went first. I took a big gulp of the mixture of snake blood and snake wine, trying hard to hold my breath. It burned a little going down and had a “snakey” aftertaste that I tried to ignore. Yeah, it was pretty disgusting.
We made it through the body fluids course, feeling slightly buzzed from the strong wine. My face was also feeling slightly tingly and a little flushed. (Not sure if Travel Insurance through World Nomads covers snake blood poisoning!)
The main course was next – Snake Soup. I decided to go right for the meat, assuming it would taste like chicken. It was very bony and kind of tasteless, not as “chickeny” as I expected. The broth was also kind of bland, more like a chicken soup broth.
Snake products are often used in Chinese medicine and reportedly make the skin softer. I don’t know if it made my skin softer, but it did make my face more sensitive. For the next 4 days, even the gentlest moisturizers burned the skin on my face, especially around the eyes. I’m not sure if it was 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
Round two: Stinky Tofu
This famous Taiwanese dish is 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 was feeling daring and decided it was time to get over my fear of Stinky Tofu.
We opted 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 wasn’t as bad as I had expected. After mocking this dish for two years, I almost even liked it!
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
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 was 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 ordered it with fat, I chose the fat-free version and I loved it! This is something I could become addicted to once I find a Gua Bao supplier in my neighborhood.
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Round Four: Rice Sausage
One of the most popular night market foods in Taiwan is the traditional sweet sausage. I’ve tried it and loved it. Rice sausage may sound boring but the Taiwanese have a way of making even the simplest ingredients interesting. My Taiwanese friend loves it so I gave it a try. Sticky rice, spices, and nuts are stuffed into a sausage casing, sliced, and served with pickled vegetables. Simple but delicious!
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
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 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 was in a daring mood, I went for the cilantro-ized version this time and loved it! Strange but 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 night markets for a taste of their favorite dish. While I usually avoid standing in line for anything, I’d consider it for another Gua Bao or Ice Cream Burrito. I guess I’m finally starting to get it!
What should I try next? Any suggestions?
(Check out what my students suggested – click here!)