Sampling local delicacies can be one of the most rewarding parts of international travel, giving you the chance to try foreign foods the way the locals make them, as well as to find new favorites you can impress friends and family with back home. But there are certain foods that test the mettle of even the most adventurous travelers, particularly when it comes to eating animals that many people have an innate fear of – such as snake meat, which is big business in Shanghai.
Why Eat Snake?
Snake meat has a long tradition in Shanghai and many other parts of China, where consuming these animals is believed to offer a number of health and lifestyle benefits, from fatigue relief to boosting virility. Whether you investigate these claims seriously or take them with a pinch of salt, there’s another reason snake is eaten more widely than other ‘exotic’ alternatives in Shanghai – because of the taste.
If you have never tasted snake before, it’s an experience worth adding to your travel itinerary, as long as you’re well prepared. Snake is typically served fried on the bone and with so many ribs to work around it can be a time-consuming task. Upmarket restaurants often remove the ribs and can prepare the meat in a variety of ways, with vegetables and other side dishes when served as a hotpot.
Snake is a very lean meat, containing around half the calories of a similarly sized sirloin beef steak and one third the amount of fat. Like other meats, snake meat is a good source of protein, which is useful for developing muscle mass and regulating hormones. The general lack of availability of snake meat in Western countries means that imported snake will not always be subject to the same health standards as other meat products, so when in doubt you should check the reputability of local restaurants in Shanghai before you dine out.
Snake Hot Pot
The most popular method of eating snake in Shanghai, hot pot restaurants serve a variety of snake breeds for the uninitiated to try and compare. Appetizers typically consist of snake bone soup before the main courses arrive – from lightweight Uriah Shaw to King Cobra and Agkistrodon. Many first-time snake eaters compare the taste to chicken, with a more rubbery texture. Like tofu, the snake meat will tend to absorb the flavor of the sauces and herbs in the pot.
Both poisonous and non-poisonous snakes may be consumed, with special preparation being required for the former, and snakes are also imported from other countries such as Thailand to satisfy refined tastes.
More Exotic Foods
Once you have braved snake, you might be ready to take on more of the culinary challenges Shanghai has to offer. Turtle soup is widely available, as is jelly made from turtle shell and bones rather than the more familiar pig cartilage, though this can require mental preparation for foreign visitors who haven’t previously viewed these majestic creatures as a viable snack. This is also true for the city’s several dog meat restaurants, though dog lovers don’t need to worry about accidentally eating these animals as most Shanghai locals wouldn’t entertain the prospect either.
Shanghai’s dining culture is among the most dynamic in the world and it can be well worth your time finding out what trends are sweeping the city’s restaurants during your trip. If your tastes are more conservative, you’ll never find it a challenge to find familiar international cuisine either, with recognizable chains and restaurants at the Shanghai Putuo hotel and other major hotels, where a mixture of Chinese and foreign dishes are served.
Are you ready to try something different on your trip to Shanghai?