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Day 137 – How To Eat Snails Like a Vietnamese

July 18, 2010

Dateline: Saigon, Vietnam – Sunday, July 18, 2010

Street food is one of life’s true joys. Give me an exhaust choked, outdoor, sitting-on-plastic-stools-next-to-a-gutter joint over a health department A-rated Denny’s any day. It just tastes better.

The risks are overblown anyway. If you think the back kitchens of the places you eat at are any cleaner, you’re deluding yourself. Out of sight, out of mind may make you feel better, but it doesn’t make the place any cleaner.

Me, I’d rather be able to look the person who’s cooking my meal in the eye. I’d rather see what they’re working with. Know whether their ingredients are fresh. See where they store their food. I’d rather see exactly how they prepare my meal. I don’t need some damn nanny state to decide for me whether a place is safe to eat. With street food I can see and choose for myself.

Which is why I thoroughly enjoyed my street side shellfish meal. Or, at least that’s what my friend called it. There were shells. They looked like they came from the sea. But there’s no getting around the fact they looked like snails.

As with all food, though, the real question is: “Was it good?” which is really a combination of two questions: (a) “Did it taste good?” and (b) “Did it not make you sick?”

Before we get to those, let’s sweat a little technique. The big snails pictured above were easy enough to know how to eat. Just jam your miniature fork up the shell, dig out the meat, making sure to discard the inedible butt parts, dip it in either the broth or your mixed combination of pepper, vinegar, and pepper, and enjoy.

The little ones presented a problem. I followed suit, popped one in my mouth, and sucked at the marinade. No snail meat. I unhooked the safety pin provided to me by the ambiguously sexed proprietor (my guess: female) and used the point to dig inside. No snail meat. I repeated this process three times, discarding my “empty” shells in the waste bin each time. No snail meat.

Turns out the tricky little bastards hide their tasty goodness behind a little shell door way up the shell’s spiral crevice. You have to find the hidden hinge by feel, crack it open, and dig out the yummy hidden treasure.

That last sentence basically answered the first of the two sub-questions. If we’re unclear, the answer is that these shellfish taste good. Real good. I actually like the little ones the best.

The big ones are easy and provide a lot more bang for the work. There’s more meat, yes, but it’s a bit tougher. Chewy, actually. They are also less flavorful. Most of the taste came from the pepper sauce, not from the animal itself. I also didn’t really care for the sauce in which it was cooked. Too syrupy and sweet.

The small shellfish, on the other hand, were delightful. Like eating little pieces of ocean. The meat was soft, too, probably because it had been cooked behind the protection of the little shell door. I loved it. It’s the perfect snack food. The seafood lover’s equivalent of eating shelled pistachios or peanuts. Not only does it taste good, there’s the joy of cracking something open before each bite. Gather up your friends and enjoy with a good conversation and a tasty beverage.

Also, it didn’t make me sick, which means it was good.

All good.

GALLERY: Click through to see a slideshow of bigger, better versions of the pictures you see above.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. tutz permalink
    July 27, 2010 2:33 am

    The big ones are yummy…. =D

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