Mar 9, 2007

Eve in the Garden with Serpent (Snake Soup)

The fellow on the left is a neighbour who found the snake and is selling it. Aunt Suke had just finished giving Thipalada a bath and thought the snake might be fun to play with, Thipalada loved it. Photo by Sengthian.
I wasn’t around when this snake was bought and killed. I don’t think eating wild animals is a good thing right now in Laos. It does make a good story, and there are photos too, so here goes. I’ll leave the discussion of morality for the end.

The first thing I knew about the snake curry was when my wife said she had good pictures of our daughter with a snake, and my brother in law was making a fire in the charcoal pot. We were at our house a half hour from where the snake was found, bought, and killed. They came to our place to make the dinner, they also gathered ant eggs from the nest by our back door, and we bought maeng kang to make jeao which I’ve already blogged about a few postings ago. The jeao didn’t actually get eaten until the next morning for breakfast and the ant eggs were stored in the fridge. The snake itself was more than enough to feed all.

As you can see from the photo the snake was fairly big, a kilo and a half maybe. To prepare the snake first they singed the whole snake in the fire to loosen the scales, then they scraped them off with a knife. They of course cut off the head, and gutted it saving the liver which they cooked separately and also the tiny bitter gal bladder they saved to put in a bottle of moonshine. I asked my brother in law if the gal bladder gave him any extra male type energies. He replied in the affirmative, and I glanced quickly at his nine months pregnant wife to see what she thought. From her smile I’d say she thinks there is something to all that gall bladder stuff.

Singeing the scales in back of the house.

They were making two dishes out of the snake. Gaeng some ngoo, or sour snake curry, and also soo-ah ngoo. I should explain about curry. In Laos, any kind of soup is called curry, not only the kind of soup we are familiar which that is coconut milk based. As a matter of fact very few curies in Laos have coconut milk.

In the soup pot went a familiar list of ingredients. Chicken stock base in the powdered form, salt, bang nua, kha (I think the English word is galanga), bai kii hoot,(kafir leaf), lemon grass, and small amounts of two bitter herb to take away any fishy taste from the snake. The two wild herbs are pac pao and hom pay, no translation, sorry. After bringing the water to a boil, the chopped pieces of snake are added piece by piece so that the water isn’t cooled too much by adding all that meat. After the snake boils for a couple few minuets the pieces are taken out to cool.

When the meat is cooled enough to handle, it is removed from the bone, put in a mixing bowl and the ingredients of the soo-ah are added. Toasted crushed sticky rice, and fresh mint are the main flavours, and they are added generously. It’s good to have the meat cool enough so that the mint stays nice and fresh and uncooked. In smaller amounts are fresh lime juice, a little ginger, fish sauce, and tiny round pieces of hot peppers. This food is supposed to be mild, but a burst of hot pepper once in a while can’t help but keep things exciting. Finally soup stock is added enough to make it wet. This food should be slightly wet, not dried out from the crushed sticky rice. It’s eaten with the hands and sticky rice.

Meanwhile the snake bones have been tossed back into the soup pot, and the final ingredients added. Garlic leaves, shallot leaves, Also tamarind leaves which we didn’t have so they substituted tamarind itself, adds a touch of sweetness.

Gaeng some ngoo
The moral stuff

The person who killed this snake knew it wasn’t poisonous, and should have left it alone. Who knows, it’s pretty big, maybe this snake is one of those snakes that eat other snakes, and so actually offers some protection. It without doubt eats rats. I skipped the meal not because of any moral reasons, I just wasn’t in the mood to try boiled snake. I’d just eaten a half pound of pork back straps. They were two days old and I can’t stand to waste food.

A bunch a dead things
Above is a picture that was posted in the house I’m now staying at. I assume these public service type posters are from the owner of the house a Laotian MD. The house has been rented out to two visiting Japanese doctors since the owner moved out, but I can’t see any reason for them to put up posters in Laotian. On the right are a couple of fat porcupines. Everyone always says how good these are, lots of grease. In the centre is a market table covered with one assume wild meat, I think I see moo pa (pork from the jungle) for the life of me I can’t recognise anything else. Then on the left bottom are a bunch of rodent looking creatures with bushy bits on the end of their tails, I think these are also porcupines, then up top a pick up truck with coolers in the back filled with unidentifiable, but big, carcases.

The writing says across the top, “buying and selling wild animals causes them to be hunted, then all the animals will be gone”

Then below, “Hunting wild animals will make all the animals be gone and will make there be less food for the poor people who live in the countryside.”

And, “ Hunting animals until they are gone causes the extinction of species”

Lastly, “ If we stop buying wild animals they won’t be hunted to extinction”

When I stared out writing the ending to this blog entry, I thought it might be impossible to hunt the pig and porcupine to extinction. Then when looking in a book to see what other animals are potentially in the forests I came across a “warty pig” thought to be extinct in Vietnam, but to survive in Laos. I’d hate to eat the last one for dinner. That said, many places in the United States now have a pig problem, notably California, not enough predators or hunting.

I might think the carcases in the pickup would provide better examples of animals not to eat, the deer, and big cats. Everyone knows tigers and leopards are rare and in danger of extinction. I would assume various civets, otters, weasels, small cats, monkeys and so on are all easily endangered.

A safe bet would be to not buy any wild meat in Laos. If you want to eat game, hunt it in your own country where there is careful management of wildlife, and no danger of making a mistake.

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