Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg

Snake Soup Keeps Hong Kongers Warm in Winter

As winter approaches and Hong Kong's brightly lit stores entice shoppers with the latest fall fashions, small family-run kitchens in the city's back alleys are dishing out traditional snake soup, a delicacy still enjoyed by locals.  Photographs by Justin Chin for Bloomberg

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    This cold blooded reptile is said to keep you warm in winter.

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    Chau Ka Ling, owner of the snake restaurant She Wong Hip, handles cobras and other snakes at her store in the Sham Shui Po district of Hong Kong — she also helps the government to relocate wild serpents. 

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    At She Wong Lam — "she wong" means "snake king" in Cantonese — they also serve snake soup. The store's owner, Mak Tai-kong, 86, handles a snake in front of brown wooden drawers marked with two Chinese characters warning that the contents include "Poisonous Snakes".

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    She Wong Lam has been serving snake meat to Hong Kongers for over 100 years. 

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    Mak, who has been working at the shop since he was 15, has been bitten countless time but never by a poisonous snake.

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    Demand for snake soup is high from the mid-autumn festival through to the winter solstice each year. The snakes used for the soup are sourced from South East Asia, not China. 

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    She Wong Hip is adorned with dried snakes and reptiles preserved with local alcohol in glass jars. They are recommended for various medical conditions. 

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    At She Wong Lam, a sign displays the prices of an array of snake products...

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    ... including snake blood wine. 

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    Back at She Wong Hip, "We use five popular species of snakes for the soup. We've also started to use sea snakes in recent years," says Chau. 

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    On a busy day, She Wong Hip can sell more than 800 bowls of soup but with the November temperature in Hong Kong still around 25 degrees, the shop sells less than half that amount. 

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    The shops sell more than snake soup. You could also try shots of local alcohol said to cure coughs, strengthen bones and even serve as an alternative to Viagra. 

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    A humble bowl of soup costs around HK$50. Topped with crispy wontons and lemongrass, it looks (and tastes) like a regular hot and sour soup.

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    "Many western tourists have come to visit our shop but they usually would order one bowl of snake soup and share among them. That doesn't help much to our business," Chau says.

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    Customers take photographs of Chau's pet python.

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    Snake tastes a lot like chicken.