is a controversial food, often attributed to the Chinese, but also found in certain other countries. The practice of eating monkey brains has led to over-hunting
, especially due to the unfounded belief that eating the monkeys' brain can cure impotence
Live monkey brain was one of the items in the Manchu Han Imperial Feast as part of Imperial cuisine in Beijing during the Qing Dynasty. Paul Burrell, the former butler of Princess Diana, claims he was served monkey brains on banana leaves and coconut palms in one of their visits.
The Anyang tribe of Cameroon practiced a tradition in which a new tribal chief would consume the brain of a hunted gorilla while another senior member of the tribe would eat the heart.
It is not only humans who eat the brains of monkeys. Two species of chimpanzee are known to eat the brains of monkeys which provide fat in their diet.
Consuming the brain and other nerve tissue of animals is not without risks. Besides the high fat content of brains, brain consumption can also result in contracting fatal transmissible spongiform encephalopathies such as Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and other prion diseases in humans and mad cow disease in cattle.
Although most likely a rare practice, certain supposed methods by which monkey brains are eaten have sparked controversy. Certain restaurants provide special tables with a hole in the center. The live monkey is immobilized with its body below the table, and the top of its skull is removed with a knife without the use of anesthetic. The head, which protrudes above the table top, serves as a bowl. Liquor may be poured into the skull and mixed with the brain. The diners then proceed to scoop out and eat parts of the brain.
This method of serving monkey brains was staged in the 1978 mondo film Faces of Death, in which a scene shows a group of people eating the dish in this manner. Several books also include similar descriptions. In the book Born Red, A Chronicle of the Cultural Revolution author Gao Yuan describes looking inside restaurant windows of Guangzhou that "offered the famous monkey brains, served at a special table that locked the monkey's head in place; the waiter would open the skull and the diners would eat while the body wriggled under the table." Maxine Hong Kingston's book The Woman Warrior also contains a description of a monkey feast including the special table; Kingston attributes the description to her mother. The Attic: Memoir of a Chinese Landlord's Son is a 1998 memoir of life in Communist China by Guanlong Cao, in which the author describes the eating of live monkey brains.
In popular culture
Besides Faces of Death, several films have featured the eating of monkey brains.
- Il Paese del sesso selvaggio directed by Umberto Lenzi (1972, also known as The Man from the Deep River) is an Italian cannibal film set in Burma that has a monkey brain scene.
- In Cannibal Holocaust (1980). A tribesman slices off a monkey's face and proceeds to eat the brains.
- In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), chilled monkey brains are served as a dessert in a scene set in India. Hindus revere monkeys due to mythological character Hanuman in the epic Ramayana and a significant number of Hindus are lacto-vegetarians. The movie was banned in India for its "racist portrayal of Indians and overt imperialistic tendencies".
- In the 1985 film Clue dinner guests are served monkey brains, but they are not revealed as such until the end of the film. This provides a clue towards who killed the cook.
- Elsewhereless (1998) is a contemporary opera set in Africa that features a live monkey brain scene.
- In a Calvin and Hobbes strip, Calvin thinks that the stuffed bell peppers his mother serves for dinner are "monkey heads"(which in fact makes him more eager to eat them).
- Live Monkey Brains on maxent.org - an extensive, critical, annotated examination of the legend.