Zoology Jottings: Snake Soup and Snake Outlets in Hong Kong

On 11 July 2018 an article within the South China Morning Publish (SCMP) reported {that a} a long-established snake restaurant in Hong Kong was to shut. That was She Wong Lam, then situated in Hillier Avenue, Sheung Wan. The restaurant, actually in enterprise by 1910, was within the fourth technology of Lo household possession. The supervisor, within the enterprise since 1948, having reached his late 80s, wished to retire. The household, having emigrated to Canada, determined to promote up.

The SCMP was accompanied by a video that may be seen on YouTube.

What individuals studying that article wouldn’t have realised was that the then head of the household agency had supplied very helpful data to John Romer on the place Chinese language Cobras (Naja atra, however then considered a subspecies of the Indian Cobra, N. naja) had been being imported from and on the magnitude of the commerce. As well as, She Wong Lam was additionally been the supply of specimens used to check the reproductive biology of the cobra on the College of Hong Kong within the Nineteen Sixties.

Snake soup is legendary in Hong Kong as a winter ‘warming’ meals and we had been taken to She Wong Lam in early 1966 as newcomers to the zoology division within the College of Hong Kong. The SCMP reported that She Wong Lam had moved round Sheung Wan throughout its lengthy historical past. Within the late Seventies it was at 82 Jervois Avenue. Nevertheless, I recollect it being on one of many streets at proper angles to, moderately than parallel with, Des Voeux Street on Hong Kong Island. It might have been Hillier Avenue, the location within the 2000s however not within the late Seventies. The restaurant not solely supplied snake soup however snake gall bladder as effectively. We watched from the pavement outdoors as a snake, alive in fact, was pulled from a picket cupboard. With the pinnacle firmly grasped in a single hand, the opposite hand, holding a small knife, was run down the ventral scales. That hand got here to a sudden halt and with a tiny motion a small slit was made within the pores and skin and physique wall. The physique was then pressed with the fingers and out popped the gall bladder which was nipped off and dropped right into a small glass of Chinese language wine. Gently rotated the gall bladder might be seen shedding the inexperienced biliverdin into the wine. The snake minus gall bladder was returned to a drawer, in all probability subsequent in line on the market in soup. I’m fairly sure that the snake handler was the supervisor in his late 80s, Mak Dai-kong, proven within the SCMP article.

We had been fascinated by how the handler situated the exact location of the gall bladder. We couldn’t resolve whether or not he felt and counted the variety of ventral scales again from the pinnacle to the exact location or whether or not he felt for different constructions within the physique cavity to information him. Regardless of the methodology it was a powerful piece of precision surgical procedure to witness, if not for the unlucky snake. The SCMP said that the knife used was devised by every handler. My finest comparability is a Swann-Morton scalpel blade No.12—the one with the hooked finish

Snake in soup we discovered indistinguishable from good rooster in consistency and flavour. In these days although She Wong Lam additionally served civet ‘cat’—the Masked Palm Civet, Paguma larvata, a species additionally traded all through China but additionally native to Hong Kong. Coronaviruses had not then been found! Civet meat proved to be dense with a peculiar however not wholly disagreeable candy, fragrant flavour. However that it one other story.

A web page from John Romer’s Pocket book held within the
Zoological Society of London Library

She Wong Lam seems in John Romer’s notebooks (preserved within the Zoological Society of London’s library). Romer clearly stored in contact with the then proprietor, Lo Shu Fai, and acquired from him, for HK$24, an especially pale-coloured Chinese language Cobra on 16 October 1978. Lo advised Romer that the snake in all probability originated in Kwangsi [Guangxi] and that he believed that only one in 100,000 acquired had been of that pale coloration. One Romer had from Lo in 1958 was the one different he had seen in 20 years. These numbers would suggest that over a interval of 20 years Lo had imported and offered 200,000 Chinese language Cobras, or 10,000 a 12 months. That’s a whole lot of cobras going from the wild to simply the one enterprise in Hong Kong.

Romer requested Lo for his opinion of two different unusually however in a different way colored cobras. The reside snakes had been confiscated from an unlicensed hawker on 17 December 1979 and handed to Romer’s Pest Management Unit for disposal. When requested by Romer to look at the reside cobras, Lo ‘appeared assured in his opinion that these these snakes had originated in Burma, having been offered by Burmese to Thai collectors in a Burma-Thai border space after which exported from Thailand to Hong Kong’.

With such a prepared provide it’s not shocking that cobras had been utilized in a research of seasonal modifications within the testis and the management of androgen and sperm manufacturing. They had been dropped at the lab in distinctive round wire cages with a door within the centre of the highest. I discovered {a photograph} on that almost all glorious web site on the historical past of Hong Kong, GWULO. Cobras unlucky to be caught for the meals commerce had their fangs pulled out at some stage on their technique to the soup bowl. I have no idea if that was the case in these offered by She Wong Lam to the college however no person was taking any possibilities. Gauntlets (of the thickest possible leather-based) and lengthy tongs had been in proof as Mr Leung, the senior animal technician and later chief technician within the division, despatched the snakes for his or her tissues to be collected. The our bodies apparently didn’t go to waste however made their technique to the cooking pot.

Cobras weren’t in fact the one snakes on sale. I purchased a python now often known as the Burmese Python, Python bivittatus, on 14 March 1967. Mr Mak, chief technician and common fixer of the zoology division, organized all of it and the python got here full with receipt bearing the legally required stamp obligation of 15 HK cents from She Wong Lam’s store in Kowloon (one other department of the restaurant). I reimbursed the departmental petty money the sum of HK$29.40. The receipt although solutions the query of the place the restaurant in Kowloon was located. In accordance with the SCMP article in 2018, no person an area historian requested might keep in mind. It was at 117 Tung Choi Avenue in Mongkok. One other department was in Wanchai, on the nook of Hennessy and Fleming Roads.

More moderen movies and pictures from Hong Kong snake eating places present primarily the non-venomous Magnificence Rat Snake discovered over a lot of south and east Asia. It shuffles between being referred to as Elaphe taeniura and Orthriophis taeniurus. In Hong Kong this snake has been discovered solely lately in localised pockets on Hong Kong Island. Though Hong Kong is throughout the pure vary of the species, there’s the likelihood and even robust likelihood that the populations have turn into established by escapes or releases from the meals and/or pet trades.

The story of She Wong Lam doesn’t finish there. The restaurant on Hillier Avenue, full with the previous picket cupboards to carry the snakes, will be seen in a video taken just lately in Hong Kong by a ‘vlogger’ looking for snake soup. Certainly the store will be seen on Google Earth nonetheless with Chinese language characters for She Wong Lam. Maybe the Lo household didn’t promote out in any case or, in the event that they did, the brand new house owners stored the identical identify and the identical line of enterprise.

The SCMP article in 2018 makes the purpose that there are a selection of different snake eating places in Hong Kong, notably within the Sham Shui Po and Yau Ma Tei areas in Kowloon (there are latest YouTube movies). Nevertheless, it was Mr Lo (of whichever technology he was) of She Wong Lam who left his mark within the pocket book of John Romer and in analysis in comparative endocrinology.

We must be in Hong Kong in November. I would go and take a look at Hillier Avenue and the previous snake cupboards.

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