As the windy cold winter arrives, it’s the best time for one of the Hanoi specialties – the snail. The popular food of hard-shell mollusk, which lives in muddy areas like ponds or rice fields, when being prepared by talented chefs will become attractive tasty dishes.
|A bowl of snails with noodles – a popular Hanoi specialty.
From the 10th lunar month onwards until before the Lunar New Year, as the weather begins to get cold, the snails grow and fatten – as a way to survive through the winter. There is an old saying “the snail in October” suggests people to eat this food at the time when the snail turns fat and tend to be best eaten in the year.
The Red River delta, full of rivers, lakes and paddy field, are favorable habitats for diverse species of snails. There are dozens of different types of snails such as cochlostoma, escargot, pila polita, pila conica, among others.
In the old days, snail was only a type of rustic food for farmers in the countryside, which is cooked simply by stir-frying or boiling. Nowadays, the simple food become a beloved specialty by Hanoi people. So, it’s the time for city chefs to showcase their talents: various types of snail dishes are prepared with different wonderful mouth-watering tastes.
There is an old saying “the snail in October” suggests people to eat this food at the time when the snail turns fat and tend to be best eaten in the year.
Boiled or stir-fried snails are popular dishes in the sidewalk snail eateries in Hanoi. In a chili cold evening, there seems to be nothing more enjoyable than ordering a bowl of hot boiled snails. Let’s be patient to dig into the tiny hard-shell mollusc, taking out the ‘chewy-rubbery’ texture piece, dipping it into the sweet-and-sour ginger-scented sauce, chewing it slowly then you’ll feel satisfied as if your effort is paid off!
Enjoying the fried snail seems a little more difficult. Snails will be left whole, deep-fried in coconut milk or sweet and sour tamarind. Although you are provided with a small snail-taking utensil (something resembles a toothpick), it’s your fingernails, lips, teeth and tongue that’ll do most of the work. Foreigners might wonder why Vietnamese people have to try so hard for take-out such a tiny piece of mollusc meat and, the reason is simply that diners enjoy the feeling of being paid off after a hard work.
|Boiled or stir-fried snails are popular dishes in the sidewalk snail eateries in Hanoi.
More upscaled, expensive and sophisticated dishes of snails that serve in high-end snail eateries are steamed snails with ginger leaves (Oc hap la gung), snail pies (Cha oc), spring roll with snails (Nem oc) and Snail hotpot (Lau oc).
Among the dishes which are prepared from snails, the steamed snails with ginger leaves seems to be most sophisticated one.
Firstly, the chef has to boil the snails; take out the snails from their shells; reserve the shells and finely dice the meat. Secondly, for preparing the paste, the chef grinds pork, then blend it with all the ingredients, mixing them with snail into a paste form. Thirdly, for snail stuffing stage, he folds one separated lemongrass leaf in half, then place it into a snail shell; stuff about one teaspoon of pork paste into the shell, placing it on top of the folded lemongrass. Steaming the stuffed snails in low heat for few minutes is the last stage of the complicated snail specialty.
|Steamed snails with ginger leaves seems to be most sophisticated dish prepared from snails.
Cha oc is another sophisticated but delicious dish. The pork paste is mixed with coarsely chopped snail, minced kaffir lime leaves and little fish sauce, then wrapped in banana leaves and grilled over charcoal fire or in the oven.
The last but not least, Nem oc or snail spring rolls seems to be the most attractive snail dish for foreigners. Different from traditional crispy spring rolls with pork, snail crispy spring rolls have a special flavor. The aroma of the piper ‘la lot’ leaves, crispy snails, the greasy of pork mixed with the aromas of other herbs makes the dish exceptional.
A dish of Cha oc or Vietnamese ham with snails.
All these snail dishes are eaten along with sweet-and-sour dipping sauce, which is made from mashed garlic, chopped lemongrass, sliced kaffir lime leaves, minced chili and ginger, then mix them well with fish sauce, sugar, vinegar and water.
In the cold season, enjoying a hot snail dish with a rich aromatic dipping sauce would not only helps eaters feel satisfied, but also helps warm up their bodies. Boiled snail dish is even tastier, laying on the way it is eaten: sitting on the sidewalk, enjoying the food while watching people passing by. If anyone has ever eaten this dish in the winter of Hanoi, it is definitely not easy to forget!