Food is everything. The feeling of love, an instant of clarity, that moment of transcendent beauty while staring at a sunset, they’re all bits of recycled lamb shuffling ions energized by a mouthful of apple juice. And everything is food: if something is alive, by definition it’s made of the stuff something else needs to stay alive, and that puts it on the menu.
Some people would complain that there are animals which produce poison, but some people eat a kind of cheese which can be sprayed from aerosol cans. Nothing natural can come up with chemicals worse than we inflict on ourselves. We worked out how to eat poisonous puffer fish not because it’s nice, but to teach the natural world a lesson: don’t even try to escape our appetites. We’ll hunt you down, draw your poison, and turn you into a luxury just to make an edible example of you.
Worse, too many people subscribe to the self-defeating luxury that edible meat is only a small part of the animal. Supermarkets sell beef as if it was a precious portion carried around inside cows, like a pearl inside the world’s largest and most flatulent oyster. Then they sell a thousand hot dogs and everyone pretends not to know what they’re made of.
China is one of the greatest places to learn to eat everything. An immense population and genuine love of food combine in a culture which enjoys eating everything. And every time I visit, I enjoy eating even more.
One year we arrived at a snake restaurant, which looked exactly like the place the white male action hero ends up halfway through the movie to start learning about another culture. Building pressure squeezed the snake restaurant into the sky, a tiny tall tower of narrow stairs and squeezed seating. Our dining room was a round peg in a square hole, a large table in an only slightly larger room, with guests squeezed in like a layer of human insulation to protect the piles of snake meat from harm. But we did do the exact opposite. We tore them into strips, crushed them, pulped them, squeezed them into slurry and dissolved them in acid.
Snakes are a perfect food. (Perfect food is always an indefinite article, as there are too many ways for food to be perfect.) The snakes are skinned, hollowed, chopped into chunks and fried in spices. The result is meat-on-the-cob, perfectly positioned spinal columns for grabbing and holding each chunk as you strip the succulent flesh from the ribcage.
The snake’s sinuous motion in life makes it so much easier to tear their muscles in death. Take a fiber from one end and you can pull out a perfectly rectangular strip, leaving a trench so straight it could be piloted by tiny X-wings. Holding the edges of the ribcage like you’re about to read a scroll of deliciousness, eating along each row with your teeth like you’re typewriting the tastiest thing you’ve ever eaten, returning with a grin to eat each new line of lifegiving flesh.
D E L I C I O U S M E A T ding!
S U C C U L E N T S P I C Y ding!
P A S S M E A N O T H E R ding!
and you toss the flensed ribcage into the ever-increasing ex-snake mountain with one hand while grabbing another with the other.
Eating snake isn’t an odd treat, it’s an animal so perfectly prepared for frying I’m surprised its scales can’t be turned into Teflon. I dealt with more snakes than St. Patrick. If Adam and Eve had been meat eaters, they wouldn’t have had any problems, and the Garden of Eden would have been even more heavenly.
I also tried snake bile wine, because this restaurant was really committed to its theme. Snake bile wine tastes exactly how you’d imagine. Even if you have no flavor context for Serpentes secretions, the phrase “snake bile” conjures more poison than an angry witch, and the reality pours even more unappetizing flavors across your tongue. I suspect they’d successfully used every other part of the snake, and failed in every attempt to make gall bladder goo palatable, and decided to just pour it into alcohol out of a sense of completeness and the hope people would drink it anyway.
And I’d drink a bottle right now for another plate of fried snake.
Delect more deliciousness with