End of an era as Taipei's last snake meat shop closes

The Asia Snake Meat Store, famed for nightly live slaughter of snakes and for keeping a snake-catching orangutan, will be turned into a hot pot restaurant as it drew its shutters for the last time on May 21, 2018.
The Asia Snake Meat Store, famed for nightly live slaughter of snakes and for keeping a snake-catching orangutan, will be turned into a hot pot restaurant as it drew its shutters for the last time on May 21, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TAIPEI - The last snake restaurant in Taipei's Huaxi Street Night Market, also known as "Snake Alley", drew its shutters for the last time on Monday (May 21), closing a chapter in the colourful history of the erstwhile red-light district.

The Asia Snake Meat Store, famed for nightly live slaughter of snakes and for keeping a snake-catching orangutan, will be turned into a hot pot restaurant as public awareness about the need for wildlife protection grows, second-generation owner Kuo Yi-chien told Taiwan media.

"At its peak, our shop sold some 1,500 bowls of snake soup a day, and slaughtered an average of 150 snakes a day," he was quoted by Central News Agency as saying.

The closing ceremony kicked off on Monday morning with a religious "cleansing" ceremony for the premise where hundreds of snakes had met their demise, reported Central News Agency.

An actor then performed a mock snake slaughter in front of the crowd, made up of regular customers, passers-by, journalists, and even Ms Ma Yi-nam, older sister of former President Ma Ying-jeou.

Shop founder Kuo Lai-kung symbolically sealed a pair of scissors that were used to in the snake slaughter. His son Yi-chien then distributed bowls of a brew made with what he claimed were more than 300 poisonous snakes stewed for more than 10 years.

Attendees were also given thousands of imitation snakes as souvenirs.

 
 

The senior Kuo had opened the store in the late 1960s, drawing crowds to his snake dishes and snake wine by slaughtering the animals in front of customers.

In those days, Huaxi Street - located in Taipei's Wanhua District - was known not just for its brothels, but also street performers and snake-meat restaurants, said the younger Kuo.

There were as many as eight snake restaurants in the area's heyday, he said, but the only two other remaining restaurants with snake on the menu now mainly sell softshell turtle meat.

With the busker culture on Huaxi Street also dying out, the Kuo family decided to stop serving snake, he said according to Taipei Times.

Cultural studies expert Jason Cheung, whose father was a friend of Kuo Lai-kung, recalled how tourists from around the world used to swarm to the street to watch snake-killing performances, the daily said.

The store's closure arouses complex emotions, because it not only signals the end of a restaurant, but the end of an era, Cheung said.

Many people expressed regret online over the store's closure, with one saying that their skin problems were cured after they drank snake soup on the street.