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DISCLAIMER: The following references are not evidence that Chinese people eat monkey brains. In fact, there is only one first-hand account listed below (from a Hong Kong tabloid). Please read the Live Monkey Brains article for a more critical examination of this urban legend.

Substantial References

Monkey Brains on the Menu In Indonesia. Los Angeles Times, February 25, 2003. Seems like strong evidence, but it still fits my criticism exactly: (1) "Others" do this (ethnic Chinese) and (2) It is not a first-hand report (the writer merely repeats the legend as fact). (A cute little editorial comment appears about this article three days later.)

Debunking strange Asian myths: Part II. Japan Times, August 8, 2002. A reporter in Japan gets back to a claim that the legend was started by a colorful columnist in 1948.

Indochina's primates face extinction this century. The Associated Press, May 31, 2001.

The International Primate Protection League. Web site - April 2001 (from August-October 2000). A first-hand account (from Indonesia, August-October 2000) of some markets that sell monkeys (to ethnic Chinese, of course) for pets, for food and for medicine, but it does not contain a first-hand account of the actual killing or eating of the monkey brains.

The Straight Dope. (Cecil Adams) March 9, 2001 (not an account but a light analysis of the story).

Chinese appetite for exotic game is hampering wildlife preservation. Knight Ridder Washington Bureau, January 27, 2000.

Animal-rights activists sound alarm over pet delicacies. The Gazette (Montreal), July 27, 1999.

Eat Live Monkey Brains in Guangxi! Apple Daily (Hong Kong), October 21, 1998. This is the most explicit and interesting article, complete with pictures, name of the restaurant and a map of how to get there. It still follows the formula: Chinese on the far frontier (not Hong Kongers) eating live monkey brains. Although the Apple Daily has a bit of a tabloid feel to it and the story is presented sensationally, the events in the story almost certainly occurred and are very convincing. Did the reporters pay the restaurant to serve a dish that is not usually served? Did the restaurant owner have a little fun with the big city folks? Or is this a real traditional delicacy in this area, verifying the truth of the legend? Critically, the monkey is completely unconscious from being forced to drink alcohol, there is no hole in the table (the owner says they don't exist anymore), and the diners don't do the dirty deed, allowing the chef to kill the monkey and serve the brains.

Cambodian Monkeys Saved From Grim Dinner Fate. Reuters, October 22, 1998. This story as told by Cambodians meshes very well with the Apple Daily article. In both, diners on the Chinese frontier get their monkeys from Vietnam. Not a first-hand report.

Brains Served Fresh and Raw. Wall Street Journal, October 26, 1998. Indonesians say that the Taiwanese poke the soft skulls of live baby monkeys with pointed sticks. Fun variation! Interesting that these last three references come from a one week period in 1998. Coincidence?

The Mouth That Almost Never Closes. The Straits Times, April 9, 1994. This article cites an apparently well-known story about the manager (David Chung) of the North Village restaurant in Singapore who outrageously claimed in 1982 that he could serve monkey brains (and other items from the Manchu Banquet) to anyone willing to pay. It seems he was all talk, but his comments sparked a significant public uproar at the time.

Passing References

These all refer to eating monkey brains in passing and provide no additional information or evidence about the practice. In this way, they all spread the story as an assumed truth without any sort of evidence at all. This is a much less important list and is therefore not exhaustive and does not go back more than two years.

Students learn black influences on cuisine. Kalamazoo Gazette, February 16, 2004. An 11-year old says that he ate monkey brains one time in a "big-city Chinatown" although "he didn't remember the name of the city or the restaurant." It is used as an example of how poor people "have often learned to eat parts of animals that have been discarded by wealthier people." While I agree with the point of the article (and explicity say so here), monkey brains actually argue against the reporter's primary contention, since the legendary brains are a rare and expensive delicacy.

Golden monkeys hope for survival in 'Year of Monkey'. People's Daily, January 22, 2004. "...but illegal hunting continued because the monkey's brain is considered a delicacy in some local cuisine."

China's taste for critters may have aided SARS. Palm Beach Post, May 25, 2003. "The Chinese have been fecklessly eating wild animals for millennia." Yeah, as opposed to the rest of humanity, which has been fecklessly vegitarian for millennia.

The Traveler and the Gate Checkers. Asia Times, May 21, 2003. Completely credulous and mildly racist article by a Westerner in the Philippines who goes on and on about what ethnic Chinese eat, including, of course, an assumption that they eat monkey brains.

China dinner delicacies succumb to SARS scare. Baltimore Sun, May 14, 2003. "Monkey brains, for example, are said to make the eater smarter; sex organs of deer, tigers, seals and other animals are said to help boost virility or cure infertility."

Monkey brains off the menu in central Africa. Reuters, January 2002. Monkey brains aren't even mentioned in this article: it is just a shamelessly sensationalistic title. I also can't find the original source, so it may be just made up anyhow.

Eatery Beat not for the Weak. Rocky Mountain News (Denver CO), May 4, 2001.

Legging It Through Chinese Cuisine. Mainichi Daily News (Japan), May 16, 2000.

Latest craze in weird food just might bite you back. The Houston Chronicle, April 30, 2000.

Master chefs spill the beans. The Straits Times (Singapore), April 22, 2001.

A Saturday afternoon in Chinatown. BusinessWorld, April 11, 2000.

Matter of Taste. The Times of India, November 12, 1999.

Cooking Up Some Culture. AsianWeek, July 14, 1999.

Fence Sitter; Food for Thought. BusinessWorld, July 12, 1999.

Entertainment Media

The Hour of Slack #920 (2003). Rev. Stang makes a brief joke about Bob's Malaysian restaurant that serves (flying) monkey brains. There's another Malaysian reference in show #928 (2004).

Hannibal (2002). OK, so it isn't technically a monkey, but they do eat live primate brain in this movie.

Waiting For Guffman (1999). Fred Willard improvs "You know in China they'll kill a monkey at the table and split its head open and eat the brains right out of it."

Elsewhereless (1998). A one-act opera set in Africa featuring a live monkey brain scene.

Monkey Brain Sushi (1995). Sony Picture Imageworks's 3D animated short that's not quite about the subject at hand.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). Monkey brains still in the head of a dead monkey served as a sorbet of sorts in India.

Faces of Death (1979). A staged and completely fake scene of some people in the Middle East eating the classic dish in the traditional manner. See and judge for yourself: Faces of Death on youtube.com

Il Paese del sesso selvaggio (1972). An Italian soft porn/cannibal film (aka Mondo Cannibale) from shock-director Umberto Lenzi that has a monkey brain scene, set in Thailand.

Miscellaneous References

A newish ISP in the Bay Area: http://www.monkeybrains.net/

Of course the Web has thousands of unsubstantiated references, like this particularly naive quote (by a Western writer in Beijing of course): "All of the really funky dishes you hear about like live monkey brains and raw rat babies are Guangdong (Cantonese) style dishes (yue cai)."


Created: 20 July, 1998  
Updated: 9 March, 2004  

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