I can't even remember the name of the place -- probably "Good Fortune Something." It's an ordinary little cafe in all respects but one. I have no idea if it's still there. If so, it's easy enough to find on the South of Roosevelt Road, about a kilometer from the intersection with Chung Shan Bei Lu.
(Or however you want to spell it. There is no "correct" spelling for Chinese, actually. But the most incorrect is that stupid system the Communists have managed to force all Western newspapers to accept, where there are all those X words that give no clue to pronunciation if you haven't studied the system. But the worst thing is that idiot American news services are using that same moronic system to write Taiwanese words. It's part of a big movement to get the American people ready to accept feeding Taiwan to the government in Peking--or Beiping, XieXing, whatever--but it is really stupid and makes me mad.
But I digress. The restaurant I'm talking about always drew smiles because of its location in a block with only three other businesses: a pet store, a veterinarian, and a restaurant. The life cycle of a Taiwan pet. You know what they say: never let an Asian wok your dog. And in the middle of this progression from cradle to plate, the place where you eat snakes.
This never seemed as bizarre to me as it does to foreigners; it's part of life in Taipei, although not exactly everyday life. I am also blasé about a lot of things that foreigners think are so cool, like Tai Chi Chuan. Everybody jabbers about how spiritual it is, people in their twenties out their doing slow motion boxing: to me it's just something old men do in their pajamas down by the river park every morning. Big deal. Snakes, on the other hand, actually are a big deal. I admire them. I don't generally eat them, but I admire their other properties. People who do eat snakes also admire certain serpentine properties: and are not content to leave them to the serpents, but attempt to usurp them by ingestion. Eating snakes is not done to be outré, or for their low cholesterol/protein ratio: it is essential health food.
It's kind of another older man thing. Snakes are associated with virility. I wonder where that idea came from, don't you. Okay, I'll admit, the way snakes look and move probably has something to do with my attraction for them, as well. And maybe why they give a lot of women the creeps. So these guys go down to Kafe Krait and east some snake bile hoping to put a little venom in their fang, a little strike in their coil. Their are other reasons: doctors even prescribe snake elements to patients. Some customers are only interested in eating certain parts of the snake, such as the lungs or liver.
What's really cool is how the place works. Most of the tables are outside under a canopy, the rest are way inside by the "kitchen", which is essentially a hibachi, a wok, and a few big knives. And a refrigerator for drinks. The rest of the place is stacks of cages full of snakes. You can wander around and look at the snakes, which I find intriguing and serves in place of a menu. You see something you like, you just point a finger. They pull the snake out with tongs, which is a skill more important here than anything you'd learn at Cordon Bleu because almost all of the snakes are extremely poisonous. Most snakes on Taiwan are seriously deadly, and there are all kinds of snakes just about everywhere. But not always in this role: one from column A, one from column B. Taken from the cage, the snake is usually displayed for the customer's satisfaction. Then it is beheaded, skinned, filleted and stir-fried. Or maybe just the kidneys or testes or whatever are pulled out and served raw or cooked. Snakes have a huge bile gland, and sometimes it is just pulled out of the snake right at the table, and the black ink from inside squeezed out into a bowl or cup of tea, and the customer drinks it. I've got a Cobra in my tank tonight, honey.
The snakes can include the bamboo green Bamboo snakes, which are small, but highly venomous and invisible in a pile of bamboo, or 50 Pacers or 100 Pacers, both names indicating how far you get before dying if they bite you, and Kraits and Coral snakes...and the ultimate prize, Cobras. Those last three are exceptionally bad company because their venom is a neurotoxin which kills extremely fast and is almost impossible to counteract. Cobras, of course, just drip menace and majesty and are wrapped in layer after layer of myth, legend, and the kind of worship that comes from stark terror. King Cobras can run down a man or even horse, then kill. You see the Buddha sitting under the arching hoods or a many-headed Cobra. In America Cobras are homicidal pistols, suicidal sports cars, and genocidal Stallone movies. It would be hard to find a single animal in the world that commands so much respect and imagery. You see a lot of Eagles in national logos, but eagles can't kill you. So what is a man who can eat a Cobra? Royal bad, you'd have to say, and hung with swift, stunning danger. You have to laugh at the idea of oysters as an aphrodisiac. Even bear gall bladder and rhinoceros horn just lack the....well, potency...of Cobra Helper. I wonder if they ever use a Ginseng sauce.
Men are always eating these things to make them better in the old sack. But what do women eat? You never hear of foods that make women....? I guess it's just one thing we don't have to worry about and should be thankful for it. We don't need special diets to make sex possible. Or do we? Women are always looking for special diets, and it's always, if you cut the crap, so men will want to screw them. Hopefully men who have been eating aphrodisiacs or don't need to. If eating snakes could get us laid, we'd absolutely gobble up every snake in Ireland. The only time I ate at Snake King, I just wanted to see what it was like. It was interesting picking out a snake to eat (a different thing from purely platonic admiration) and interesting to watch them kill it and cook it right in front of my eyes. I let them keep the bile and gall bladder for some lucky, limp guy. And yes, it tasted something like chicken. Or something. I didn't feel empowered or potent. I didn't feel like I'd incorporated the snakes liquid moves and steel eyes and scary beauty and phallic presence. But maybe I did. How would I tell?