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!