Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Labor Union Snake Feast
To understand how this tradition came about is almost like reading a chapter of modern Hong Kong history. Back in the 50's and 60's when the city was caught between the Nationalist-Communist rivalry still rampant in China, labor unions became a battlefield for political arm-wrestling and unfortunately, the breeding ground of much social unrest at that time. In order to garner support and boost their membership base, the rivaling leftist (pro-communist) and rightest (pro-nationalist) unions would each organize events, often in the name of some festive celebrations or entertainment and offered to their supporters for free or at very low cost, partly as membership perks and partly as a platform for whatever propaganda agenda they want to push. Sometimes it could be distribution of a free packet of rice in new year or special food for traditional Chinese celebrations, or a vegetarian meal at one of the Buddhist festivals, all of which were popular among low-income families, which made up most of the local population at that time. And Snake Feast, so named because most dishes were cooked with snake meat was also organized regularly during winter time, since Cantonese believe snake meat has a warming effect to one's body and considered a delicacy.
Of course, time has changed since then, but you may be surprised that such tradition of "food bribery" still exists to this date. We even coined the term "Ser Zai Beng Zhong" (蛇齋餅粽), which literally means "snake", "vegetarian meal", "mooncake" and "rice dumplings", used collectively to define any freebie being offered as propaganda by labor union activists and certain politicians.
Enough of historical background. Well for us, we joined simply because we do love a bowl of snake soup or two and found the dinner offered great value for money, even as regular, full price-paying customers. In fact, we have done this for a few years already and have become a tradition of our own.
This time, we booked one table of 12 at the dinner organized by the most prominent leftist labor union and held in their office in West Kowloon, in the dining hall converted from their function rooms. They were one of our favorite organizers - strictly because of their food and nothing to do with their political stance - and they are the one with the deepest pocket - that explained why the venue is more spacious and comfortable and the food was of high quality and large portion.
No desserts offered at the end of dinner this time, but some of us just headed up to a small shop next door for a traditional and equally delicious hot double-boiled milk custard. With winter not even officially started, I have the feeling that this won't be the only time we gathered for a snake feast this season - and I can't wait for the next one.