Friday, March 18, 2016

Exotic Winter Tonic in Qionghai 琼海野味进补

pots of wild bird and squirrel tonics 

It was quite chilly when I first arrived in Haikou, capital of Hainan, in mid January. It was 17℃ when I stepped out of the airport.

3 days later when I arrived in Qionghai, the temperature was 11℃ after a downpour earlier. As the island got colder and colder, a winter tonic was just what the locals needed. Winter tonic-taking is a traditional Chinese custom. The Chinese believe that tonics can promote a healthy life as well as maintain the balance of yin and yang.

squirrel meat

The first night in Qionghai, the local representatives treated our group to tonics of wild birds and squirrels. Seeing the alarm on my face, one of the Chinese officials assured me that the wild birds and squirrels are pests to the local farmers who catch and sell them to restaurants.

I was the only woman among the group of men, so they took good care of me. When the meats were heaped on my plate, I made an effort to taste them in order not to be rude. Both the meats were tough. I had to give up using chopsticks and use my hands instead. So unladylike. ish.

wild bird - I had a hard time eating it

Unaware, I was given the half the head of a squirrel. To my horror, an eye fell off while I was taking a bite ..... I had to surrender! No way I was going to touch the meats. I just drank the soup the whole evening.

Because the tonics were so potent, I could not sleep the whole night. I was tossing and turning in bed. Fortunately I didn't have a nosebleed.

afternoon tea time in Qionghai

The second day in Qionghai, we had a leisurely hour for tea by the kerb. The weather was refreshingly cool. A local brought us to a roadside tea stall for Chinese tea which cost RMB12 for 4 people, free top up of boiling water. They use local tea leaves which is quite bland. At 4 pm, there were not many vehicles on the roads.

That night, another local treated us to a dinner of snake tonic. It was unavoidable for me as I was the only 'honoured overseas guest',  and so I bravely live through another night. hahaha.....

Lucky for me, there was a delicious fried spinach rice and the snake tonic was quite palatable.

Again, I had a sleepless night.... due to the Chinese tea and tonic At 3 am, I woke my husband up in Singapore by calling his mobile. He laughed his head off and lamented he could not help much in such a situation.


The next morning at breakfast, one of the officials informed me that the wife of a senior Chinese official is inviting me to a dinner of wild lizard tonic (野生四脚蛇汤) when I return to Haikou.

sigh. I lost my appetite that day.

1月中抵达海口气温17℃, 3天后来到琼海气温11℃。
1月19日下午到21日夜间, 海南最低气温6℃。

由于气温较低, 琼海当地代表们连续两晚邀请我们享用热呼呼的野味补品。野生鸟、松鼠和海蛇补汤, 是进补的良菜佳肴。 在海南, 天气冷进补能提高人体的免疫功能,促进新陈代谢,使畏寒的现象得到改善。

据当地人说 :"海蛇肉具有防寒、祛湿的作用,对风湿病、腰骨酸痛有一定的辅助疗效,是秋冬进补的上品。"

返回海口, 有领导夫人宴请野生四脚蛇汤。


  1. Goodness me ! What an adventure ! I principally taste everything unknown to me because I am curious, a bird OK, but never a squirrel I would have pretended to be vegetarian and allergic to all kind of meat !

    1. I am not that adventurous when I am in China. Because I was invited to dinner, I have to be courteous to the host and at least attempt to taste whatever he placed on my plate. haha...

  2. interesting stuff - a tonic of snake and lizard? I have eaten both as roasted meat, but they were not tough. Wild quail, dove, duck and other birds, i have had - again it is how they are prepared and my favorite way was grilled stuffed with sausage. squirrel - understand it in a broth, but very bony, like rabbit and so when they gave you the head it was either as a joke (on you) or an honour, depending on what they thought.

    1. The Chinese put almost every animal they can think of in a tonic. I live on a tropical island so I don't usually consume tonics.

      These meats are weird to me. The squirrel and wild bird were truly bony, but the men like them with their alcohol. The squirrel's head wasn't a joke. The host just picked a piece of meat from the big pot and placed it on my plate.

  3. I had squirrel when I was a kid in Malaysia. Thought it tasted, strangely enough, somewhere in between crab and chicken! Wouldn't mind trying it again. On the other hand, definitely am not a fan of snake and think lizard would be a bridge too far for me. Wild birds, on the other hand, sound intriguing... ;)

    1. Surprisingly, a few Malaysian friends have informed me that I can find these exotic meats in JB. I am not even going to look for them. LOL

      You could cross over to Shenzhen for the exotic winter tonics. A Chinese friend told me there are eateries selling them.

    2. Would you believe that I've never been to Shenzhen? Among my reasons is that Malaysians need visas to go to mainland China -- and I think why bother when I can go to Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, etc. without a visa?!

    3. Oh! I thought Shenzhen being right next door to Hong Kong, you would often go over for shopping or a meal. I didn't know Malaysians need visas to visit mainland China :P