"It was once purported that eating monkey brains can cure impotence and has, in part, led to the over-hunting of monkeys in Indonesia," according Gizelle Lau of TripAtlas.com, who notes the dish is attributed to China.
German press reporter Vanessa Santos describes the practice of serving monkey brains at a restaurant in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province in southwest China:
"The chef puts a noose around the monkey's neck and pulls. The monkey rattles and squirms until it loses consciousness. Then it goes fast: With practiced hands the chef chops off the monkey's head, opening the skull and it quickly served. With sticks, the guests pick bits out of the open skull. 'The pulsating brain still has to be at body temperature, it tastes best. A bit like tofu,' says restaurant guest Tong Gu."
In The Attic: Memoir of a Chinese Landlord's Son, a 1998 memoir of life in Communist China, author Guanlong Cao, who lived in Shanghai from the 1950s to 1980s, describes the practice of eating of live monkey brains:
"The table was built in two halves with a hole in the middle. The head of the monkey emerged through the hole, with its neck clamped by the two sides. It could breathe, but it could not retract its head. A couple of bars were installed beneath the table, as a perch for the sacrifice…When the monkey was in position, a ladleful of hot oil was sprinkled on its head. The hair was thereby loosened and easy to pull out…The dehairing could be assigned to an assistant, but the breaking of the skull had to be performed by an expert. The monkey's head was struck with a silver hammer…When the skull was broken, the shards were carefully picked out with silver tweezers. Then the membrane had to be peeled off. When the membrane had been removed, the 'white jade' was presented to the distinguished guests. At this point, the monkey was still conscious. Its eyes glittered, looking around at all the guests. The diners, in contrast, closed their eyes in meditation, waiting for the most sacred moment—'jade breaking'…Breaking the 'jade' was a great honor, and the ritual was performed by the oldest or highest-ranking guest…The honored guest slowly extended the spoon toward the 'jade.' A slight tap, and the brain oozed out. He scooped a half spoonful of 'jade' and solemnly brought it to his lips. Closing his eyes, he savored the taste from the tip of his tongue to the back of his palate. Then he emitted a long sigh. He opened his eyes, his pupils shining. He looked around at everyone gathered at the table. A hubbub arose."
"For Guanlong Cao, the delicacy and professionalism of Chinese cooking are inextricably linked with its cruelty," writes author Wendy Lesser in a review of the book for The New York Times.