Sunday, 11 April 2010

Gastronomica Gastropoda - Vietnam Food

The French may have the most obvious, though somewhat elitist bookmark in any current reference on the culinary attributes of snails. But having just returned from another work related (and food exploration) trip to both north and south Vietnam, I can attest that the Indochinese have their very own and certainly more down to earth chapters on serving up the diverse variety of gastropods that slime their way across their local landscape. Snails of all colours and shapes mostly of the aquatic variety, were served in some dish at just about every meal I had there. Some were great, some were definitely forgettable, some had spiral shells piled high as the glistening centrepiece treat, some had them shelled and added to a mix stir-fry merely as dot points of meaty earthiness...and below, are some that captured the attention of my tastebuds and camera.

A local colleague showing me the way to twirl the meaty foot out of the shell of freshwater apple snails at a beer cafe in Hanoi. I suspect that this may be a local variety. Vietnamese farmers are waging an on-going but ultimately lost battle with larger introduced species that are ruthlessly chomping their way through the country's rice and taro crops. Unfortunately and typically, the aliens are not so tasty and not favoured as food.

The apple snails were wok steamed with lime leaves, chilli and lots of lemongrass. It took me but a moment's hesitation before joining my enthusiastic dining companions in digging in, or should that be digging out! Tastewise the somewhat chewy meat had obvious hints of earthy...erm...'algaeness' but this was easily fixed by a vigourous swirl in lime juice mixed in with peppered salt. Not so much a fan of the pulpy 'tail' and innards that trailed out after the foot however. The only culinary descriptive I could come up with on this was..."eww"!

Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is such a confounding and clumsy name for this vibrant metropolis of South Vietnam. I, like most of its citizens on the ground much prefer the original of Saigon. In one of the city's many hotpot restaurants I was treated to an entrée of prettily patterned shells poached in a bouillon fragrant with lime leaves. This looked to me to be a marine snail that is certainly popular, seen sold at every local market I wandered through.

In contrast to the first, this variety was tender, clear, and clean tasting. Tasty and moreish indeed.

Food to go with dark beer at a Saigon Bia Hoi (freshly brewed beer bistro). It got a bit lost in translation but I think this may be meat from some sort of large marine whelk or conch flash fried in a wok with basil, chilli and garlic segments. Tasty enough but unpleasantly tough and chewy. A cheap and insufficient substitute for abalone, that infinitely more expensive and much sought after marine gastropod mollusc. However the garlic done this way and common in local stir-fries was delicious eaten whole, not at all sharp or even garlicky. Instead they were somewhat nutty, slightly crunchy and utterly beer friendly!


Anh said...

Thanks for leaving the comment on my blog so I discovered yours!

Oh the snails!! *jump with joy* I love them, the local ones only though {The foreign ones are a bit chewy?}. It’s not easy to find good snails shop. And actually, the smaller the snails, the tastier they are. More importantly is the fish sauce which needs an explosion of ginger flavors.

I can eat two bowls in winter. Great food (for me! :P). Kudos for you to try out. My husband tried two bowls and he had gastro after that. Did you try the snail noodle soup?

Jayson James said...

I never thought that snails could be as palatable as this. Totally mouth-watering! My mom would have loved this but she's very keen with how the ingredients were obtained given that this cuisine looks exotic. But I bet she can't say no to this one.

All Seasons Catering said...

As the owner of one of the Perth Corporate Catering Companies we try to incorporate South East Asian food in our menus and will certainly be trying to emulate some of your great recipes on this blog.

jessica said...

Nice recipe i would try it.. thanks for sharing