Locals can’t get enough of this Hong Kong cuissssine, but it’s not for the faint-hearted.

When our resident world traveller and reporter Ikuna Kamezawa visits a new country, she makes it her mission to find local delicacies and hidden gems not found in your average guidebook. Her recent trip to Hong Kong was no different, but with many spots that may have been considered ‘hidden gems’ in the past having now become well-known and popular, she’d have to work a little harder to find somewhere truly known just to locals.

So after what felt like an eternity trekking through the back alleys of the Hong Kong streets, Ikuna stumbled across a small restaurant called Se Wong Hing. Ikuna isn’t fluent in Cantonese, but all over the shop the character 蛇 could be seen, which in Japanese is read as hebi, or snake.

Yes, Se Wong Hing (or ‘Snake King‘) is a shop specialising in snake meat. Snake is eaten in many places all over the world, but outside of Okinawan snake wine, in Japan snakes are about as commonly found in toilets as on dinner tables. So for Ikuna, this was a real novelty, and a great opportunity to try something you’d never find in Japan.

The menu looked to consist of two set meals — set A, which was HK$140 (US$17.83), and set B, which was $173; pretty pricey for a lunchtime meal, but around normal for dinner. Ikuna wasn’t sure of the difference or what would be coming as part of her set, and to be honest she had very low expectations as to how delicious her meal would be. But you only have one life, and she knew that if she didn’t at least give snake a try, especially from a restaurant named ‘Snake King’, she’d regret it later.

So, she ordered set A and went inside to sit down.

Ikuna was slightly reassured upon entering the Snake King restaurant, as it was full with other customers, silently wolfing down their bowls of snake. There was a bunch of writing on the walls of the shop which she couldn’t read, so decided to assume it was talking about all medicinal benefits and high nutritional value.

She also decided to ignore the white shelves on the right…

… which had the words 毒蛇 (poisonous snake) written on them.

Not three seconds after making her order, Ikuna was given a bowl of soup. A bowl… of snake soup, in a thick, starchy broth!

The broth seemed to have come from this large silver container found outside the shop. There was a container for the soup, and also a container full of cooked rice to accompany Ikuna’s soup.

Soon the rest of her order arrived — as well as her bowl of snake stew, she also had a bowl of a thinner snake broth, and what seemed like takikomi gohan — seasoned rice with a mixture of meat, vegetables and other toppings.

Ikuna hadn’t been expecting to get two bowls of snake soup, but then again she hadn’t really been sure what to expect, so she got stuck in right away, ready to do battle with the Snake King.

First off was the snake stew in the thick broth. Snake meat is pretty expensive, but a very generous helping was added to this soup, which also included chopped kikurage mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, and ginger. The stew tasted surprisingly good. The snake meat had a nice texture to it as well and looked and tasted similar to chicken neck. The broth was thick and flavourful, and Ikuna enjoyed it a lot.

Next up was the bowl of thin snake broth. Ikuna sensed this one might be more medicinal than the previous bowl, and it did indeed taste more bitter. Instead of snake meat, this bowl seemed to contain snake extract instead. Ikuna didn’t particularly enjoy this broth, but appreciated the probable health benefits she’d get from eating it.

Finally, the bowl of rice. It was topped with a rich sauce, as well as intestines, peanuts, and green onions, and Ikuna couldn’t get enough of it. But as she gobbled it down, a bead of sweat ran down her forehead, and she realised that she’d been sweating non-stop since her first bite of snake soup. Is this the magical healing power of snake soup? Had she been unknowingly served some of the poisonous snake? She wasn’t sure, but as she took her last bite of the rice bowl, she was absolutely drenched in sweat.

Taking on the Snake King is no easy feat, and something beginners should not rush into lightly. But at the same time, snake soup is a delicacy that’s been loved by the people of Hong Kong for centuries, and is definitely worth trying at least once.

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