As a child in Hong Kong, I was sick one day with throat congestion. Worried about her youngest child, my mother asked our neighbor for a Chinese folk remedy. Mrs. Lee said she knew the perfect cure — a snake gallbladder.
Mrs. Lee said the gallbladder would dissolve the phlegm clogging my throat. I didn’t know it at the time, but snake gallbladders supposedly boost male libido, too.
Probably not what my mom or Mrs. Lee intended.
Mrs. Pang was a new mother of two. So she believed Mrs. Lee, who was already raising three children, including a daughter with asthma.
Mrs. Lee knew a folk remedy for her daughter’s breathing problems, too. She would boil live fish in a coconut, then make the girl drink it.
Snakes on Sidewalk
They took me to an eatery that served snakes. I had no choice.
Out on the sidewalk, the snake shop had tables and chair, as well as mesh-wire cages.
The cages were stacked on top of one another. Inside were piles of snakes, hissing and crawling on top of one another.
Here in America, animal activists and health inspectors would have shuttered the snake shop. In Hong Kong, housewives with sickly children like myself kept its doors open.
My mother ordered a snake gallbladder. She paid the equivalent of $14 in today’s U.S. currency.
A cook lifted the lid on a cage. He reached inside and grabbed a serpent with his bare hands.
He took the coiling snake to a chopping block. With a sharp knife, he gutted the snake alive. Then, he pulled out its black gallbladder, the size of a marble.
What did he do with the rest of the snake? He probably skinned the body, hacked it into chunks and tossed the fresh meat into a soup pot. That’s what other snake shops did.
Swallow in One Gulp
I was told to swallow the sac in one gulp. Don’t bite it, somebody told me, or it’ll taste bitter.
Here my memory becomes faulty. I only remember sipping snake soup from a bowl.
My mother, however, says I really did eat the gallbladder. She even says the bowl had no soup, maybe a little bit of water or broth. Probably snake broth.
Years later, I read that some cooks would actually pierce the gallbladder. They would extract the bile, mix it with wine and serve it in a shotglass.
‘Hundreds of Parasites’
Today, my mother admits that snake gallbladder might not be sound medicine. She even says it seems a bit risky.
At least I didn’t get sick like this 13-year-old boy in China. His parents fed him a raw snake gallbladder, thinking it’d improve his eyesight.
Instead, he ended up with “hundreds of parasites … in his lung, liver, intestines and kidney.”
By the way, the Chinese consider the gallbladder to be the seat of courage. To say someone has a “big gallbladder” means he is either courageous or imprudent.
What are some of the strangest animals you’ve eaten? I’d love to hear your stories. Please share in the comments section below!