On a Monday evening, in those delicate days before Hong Kong’s brutally humid summer begins in earnest, Chau Ka-ling’s snake soup restaurant is bustling with the after-work crowd. Snake soup is usually reserved for the winter months; it’s renowned for its warming and medicinal qualities. But Chau’s shop stays open all year long, despite the fact she might sell under 100 bowls on a July day compared to about 1,000 bowls on a December day.
“We have rent to pay,” Chau says squarely. It’s with the same get-it-done sensibility that she opens a drawer of a tall wooden cabinet and removes a squirming non-venomous python. This one isn’t dinner, she says: Along with a king cobra, which is stored in a separate cabinet drawer labeled “poisonous” in Chinese, she keeps this python as a pet.
Chau’s unflappable nature is part of what makes her such an expert snake handler. The walls of her shop, Shia Wong Hip, are lined with glass bottles of snake wine, jars filled with prized snake gallbladders, and newspaper clippings splashed with photos of a teenage Chau. That’s when she started in the business, helping at her father’s snake shop.Continue reading “The Snake Soup Queen”