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Eating Monsters

by Terrence Collins

Being a food writer, is not all glamour and fine dining you know, this month I will be sharing some of my more exotic food adventures with you from Hong Kong and Cambodia.

Let’s start in Hong Kong a few days before New Year, I have a few good friends and residents on my housing project The Vineyard who presently live in Hong Kong, soon to move to Thailand. So I thought it was time to take them up on their kind offer to show me the Hong Kong that most tourists do not see, of which the food highlight was snake soup and snake bile. It was winter time, so the perfect time to eat snake soup as it is a very warming dish, that sets you up for the whole day. I was informed that the “”She Wong Lam”” restaurant is over 110 years old and the last remaining snake soup restaurant on Hong Kong island, although many can be found in Kowloon. The 84 year old shop owner Mak Tai-Kong looked youthful as he handled the live snakes, with hands as quick as a mongoose.

He claims his good health and youthful appearance are due to eating a bowl of snake soup every day since he started working at the restaurant 64 years ago. The soup was delicious and indeed very warming, yes the snake tasted like chicken, although more chewy and the base of the soup is made from pork bones with a hint of lemongrass. But truth be told, I wasn’t just there for the soup, snake bile has been on my bucket list for many years and today was the day to tick that box.

Mak Tai-Kong quickly massages the snake to locate the gall bladder, which he then removes in seconds with a small pocket knife, it does not kill the snake.After rinsing the bladder in a small bowl containing whiskey to sterilize the organ, he transfer the bladder to a second bowl where he pierces the bladder to release the bile. Sounds delicious I know, after adding a small measure of whiskey its ready to drink straight away. By this time, I had attracted quite an audience, all of whom were locals and seemed fascinated with the whole process and this Gweilo crazy enough to drink this ancient concoction. Although the soup is still very popular, after speaking to the local clientele, it seems that drinking the bile has gone out of fashion - still that wasn’t going to deter me.

The bile and whiskey mix went down much smoother and weren’t as bitter as I imagined. It instantly warmed my body as it went down and overall was quite a pleasant experience that I would recommend to anyone.

Now my next adventure took me to Seam Reap in Cambodia, location of the famous 8th wonder of the world “” Angkor Wat”” to a restaurant called “”Bugs Café”” that specializes in, yes you guessed it “”BUGS”” We browsed the menu that included such delicacies as ants, silk worms, snakes and crocodile to name a few, until making our choices.

We bravely opted for the Tarantulas to start. Six huge hairy spiders filled the plate, crunchy and soft in the middle, they are marinated in sugar and fish sauce before being deep fried and were actually quite palatable as bugs go. But certainly a scary experience and not for the faint hearted.

Up next were deep fried scorpions with som tam, these were also very large and not to be confused with the tiny critters you find in street stalls in Thailand and China. They were much bigger and the thought of biting one in half made me cringe, I could imagine the contents of their stomach running down my chin which made me gag. I should also mention that I was suffering from chronic food poisoning at the time, Not Surprising I hear you say. So I did the only thing that I could and popped the entire monster arachnid in my mouth, Pedi palps (pinchers) and all. These had far too many sharp crunchy legs for my liking, which got stuck in my teeth.Bitter to taste and not much better to smell, I managed to gulp it down with the help of an ice cold draft Angkor beer, this was certainly not my favourite snack!

The final course was a safe bet of crocodile skewers marinated in amok spices, very popular in Cambodia and served with sweet potato fries, my favourites. Then to my horror I noticed that a fried ant was stuck on one of my fries, I immediately called the waiter over to complain about this unwanted guest on my plate, when I stopped dead in my tracks. As it dawned on me, in this restaurant the ant was just another ingredient in the kitchen, so I could hardly complain, especially considering what other creepy crawlies I have just devoured. So I just ordered another ice cold Angkor beer and popped the sweet potato fry plus the unwanted guest into my mouth.

The next day my food poisoning had cleared up, no doubt due to the assault I had given my digestive system. What’s next you may ask?

Well I’m off to the Philippines to finally eat BALUT, as I have been avoiding it for some 27 years since my first trip to the archipelago. If you are not familiar with Balut, they are soft boiled duck egg with a part formed embryo inside, that resemble the dead chicks you see that have fallen out of their nests, big bulgy closed eyes, soft beaks and even young feathers on the wings.

Truly a sickening sight to behold, but Filipino men swear by them as a natural Viagra, so in for a penny, in for a pound.

What have I got to lose?