DISCLAIMER: The following article is a translation from a Hong Kong tabloid. It is not evidence that Chinese people eat monkey brains. Please follow this link for a more critical examination of this urban legend.

Original article provided by K.C. Chan. Original translation by Lucy Yeh and D.E. Franks, 1998. Revised by D.E. Franks and Y.P. Kuo, 2001.
[Comments in brackets are from the translators.]


Copyright October 21, 1998. Apple Daily [ 蘋 果 日 報 ], Hong Kong, China.

Eat Live Monkey Brains! In Pingxiang, Guangxi,
It Really Exists!

> Brutal Nourishment >

|Guangxi News| The "Man Han Quan Xi" [ 蘋 果 日 報 - "The Manchu-Han Complete Banquet"] has been well-known since long ago, but it is a pity that many of the dishes from this banquet may soon be lost forever. One example is the eating of monkey brains, a tale many have heard, but few have experienced. Now, this delicious dish of the palace, which was about to disappear, has finally been passed on to the next generation in southwestern Guangxi [ 廣 西 ] Province in Mainland China, near the border separating China and Vietnam. This reporter witnessed gourmets having a "Monkey Feast" at an inn in the quaint village of Pingxiang [ 憑 祥 ] near the frontier. Among the delicacies, live monkey brain is something no ordinary person would dare eat!

After the monkey is inebriated, it is placed on the table to await the hungry diners.
For the residents of Pingxiang, it is not extraordinary to eat monkeys. A gourmet can buy monkeys in the markets and send them to the inns for cooking. The cooks first force the monkeys in the cage to drink rice wine to make them drunk, then pull them out from the cage and bind their limbs ( to prevent them from awakening), then they chop open their skulls with a sharp knife, and then scoop out the white brains, the blood vessels still pulsing, easily visible. They serve the brain as soon as possible, and dig the brains out when they are still warm, eating them with some seasonings, such as pickled ginger, chili pepper, fried peanuts, cilantro and so on. The gourmet chews and swallows the brains and feels great, while the monkey kicks the bucket still drunk!

The taste is like water tofu

One gourmet said that the taste of monkey brain is not terribly special, perhaps like water tofu, and that pickled ginger and chili are used to add more flavor. Moreover, he added that the monkey brains become pungent if they are not fresh (for example if the skull was opened too long ago), thus it is best to open the skull and eat at once, while the brain cells are not dead and the blood vessels are still pulsing.

Another gourmet was eating monkeys while drinking wine. He said that eating them this way can kill any germs and bacteria. The local residents also love to eat live fish, which they also consume this way.

The cook at the inn said that the traditional way to eat monkey brains was to seal its mouth and tie it tightly under a special table, with a hole in the center, so that only the monkey's head peaked above. Then the monkey's hair was shaved, the skull was cut open, and the brains were eaten while it was still alive. Sometimes the monkey's mouth was not sealed tightly enough, resulting in miserable screams or moans from under the table.

This method is too cruel by current standards however, and has thus been changed: the monkeys are inebriated and the brains are eaten after they lose consciousness.

The cook said that a long-tailed monkey which weighs 1.5kg has a brain that weighs 150 grams at most, so it is very special to eat raw monkey brain, but it is also wasteful. A better way is to stew the brains with Chinese herbs to create the traditional "ultimate brain food."

Monkey paw and meat stew

After eating the brains, the cook then makes other dishes with the rest of the monkey. The paws and meat can be used as stock, or stewed in a soup with nutritional herbs and chicken. The customers had only compliments on how delicious it was. One of the women was quite disgusted when a paw was ladled from the soup with the nails clearly visible!

Imported wild animals not banned

The Pingxiang Fresh Wild Game Market [ 憑 祥 鮮 活 野 味 市 場 ] located in the center of the city, is said to operate with special permission. There are many varieties of wild animals, not only monkeys, but also owls, chameleons, and Wuzhua [ 五 爪 ] pythons, not to mention pangolins [scaly anteaters] and Shanjue pangolins; and they are all inexpensive. For example, a long-tailed monkey, which weighs about 1.5kg costs only $380CNY [yuan renminbi where $1USD = $8CNY]. Chameleons are $15CNY for 0.5kg, and pangolins are less than $50CNY for 0.5kg.

Only domestic animals are protected

The Wild Life Market is very famous. Tourists go there on their way to Pingxiang or to the frontier. Animal-lovers may buy a thumb-monkey or a canary as a pet for the home. Gourmet buy whatever they want and ask the inns for processing, and then enjoy a wonderful meal.

According to one official, the government is determined to protect domestic wild animals, but since this small town is near Vietnam, many of the animals that are available in markets have been smuggled in from beyond the border. They have no reasons to regulate this trade, and even welcome those animals, the more the better.

Some people argue that it is illegal to eat these animals [no matter where they are from], and the official said that this is reasonable and understandable: but if it is illegal to eat the animals, then it would be a waste to send them back to their country of origin. Since there is no way to send them back, why not find a use for them!

The Pingxiang Game market has various kinds of rare and valuable live game animals for sale, and the price is cheap.



Before the monkey brains can be eaten, the monkey is first inebriated with rice wine while still in the cage.



Connoisseurs note that monkey brains are best eaten when they are still warm and fresh, well before they get pungent.



Live monkey brains with pickled ginger, chili pepper and cilantro seasonings.


Connoisseurs find monkey stew to be delicious and sweet,
but are frightened by the eyes staring out of their soup.

Stewed monkey brains with Chinese herbs are superior

In China, there is a traditional saying "Yi Xing Bu Xing" [ 以 形 補 形 - Literally "Like nourishes like" an idiom that roughly means "If you eat an organ of a animal, then it's good for your corresponding organ."]. That is the reason why the Qing Dynasty included monkey brains in the "Man Han Quan Xi." According to an experienced doctor of Chinese medicine in Shenzhen [ 深 圳 ] however, there are no special health benefits from eating live animal brains, and the best results are achieved using Chinese herbs for better health. For example, when stewed with tianma [ 天 麻 ], chuanqiong [ 川 芎 ], baizhi [ 白 芷 ], or yuanhu [ 元 胡 ] and baishao [ 白 芍 ], brains may be effective remedies for headaches or other head ailments [ 頭 風 ]. It is said that Qianlong [ 乾 隆 ], an Emperor in the Qing Dynasty, was a master of domestic affairs and was smarter than ordinary people, even at the age of eighty, which may be the result of eating "Monkey Brain Stew Tienma."

However, according to western medicine, the nutrients in monkey brains don't differ from those in other animal brains. It mainly contains protein, cholesterol, gluey neuron fibers and so on. After eating the brains, these nutrients can neither be absorbed into the human brain, nor make people smarter. "Yi Xing Bu Xing" is only an old Chinese idiom without any scientific evidence.

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Do the Chinese really eat monkeys? Do Americans eat deer testicles? The answer to both questions is the same.

[Comments in brackets are from the translators.] Other parentheses and quotation marks are original. Chinese characters are included for proper names and idioms and use Big5 coding that can be viewed in Internet Explorer by downloading the traditional Chinese character set from Microsoft. Traditional characters are also used in original article and at the Apple Daily Online. There are probably a few errors since the translation was done by Mandarin speakers and the article is in Cantonese and there are probably a few errors because of stupid mistakes. Complaints should be directed to someone who cares, but corrections are greatly appreciated!