Monday, December 15, 2008

Shelling out

I was eight years old when I went abroad for the first time, a family fortnight in Brittany. To prepare for the experience, my parents took us to a nearby French restaurant, where I entered into the spirit of things by ordering escargots. The starters duly arrived, but mine wasn't among them.

"Daddy," I hissed. "Where are my snails?"

"They take a little bit longer," he explained. "The chef has to go to the churchyard next door and pluck them off the gravestones."

Despite that trauma (which would probably nowadays see my father being prosecuted for child abuse - did you see the story about the teacher who was sacked for telling children that Santa Claus didn't exist?) I grew to love the little rubbery buggers, ordering them whenever the opportunity arrived. But gradually, I realised that what I really loved was the vast quantities of garlic and butter and parsley in which the snails were cooked, and they slipped from my culinary Top 10.

Fast forward rather more years than I'd care to think about; to Saturday night, in fact. I'm reviewing a new French restaurant in Bangkok, in the most excellent company of Charles Frith. Escargots Bourguignon is on the menu and hey, what the hell, let's have some. Although the garlic and butter is present, it's a restrained, elegant version of the dish, not a full-on vampire killer; as a result, you can taste the snails.

"I think these snails must be frozen," I say. "They don't taste of anything." And then the sickening, shuddering realisation kicks in. Maybe snails really don't taste of anything anyway.

It's as if you're a music fan in the late 1980's, and you've just invested in this new-fangled compact disc thingummybob; you splash out on the complete works of your favourite artist on CD. And when you get them home and play them, you realise that what you loved about your old records was the smell of the vinyl, the static as the disc came out of the sleeve, the pop as the stylus made contact, the crackle and the buzz, the familiar label going round slightly more than once every two seconds. And the music you thought you loved was pretty bloody ordinary.

12 comments:

FirstNations said...

I'm here to save your soul, darling. land snails do indeed have a flavor. a mild taste like clams, only not salty. what you had, sorry to say, were CANNED SNAILS.

you are welcome.

Murph said...

Asparagus...that's another for the "Emperor's New Clothes" department.

And David Bowie.

Richard said...

I haven't had snails for ages. I thought I like them.

Coffee, that's another. Smells way better than it tastes unless it's full of milk and sugar.

Christopher Campbell-Howes said...

Yes, I think FN's right - canned or frozen, either way the snail loses its flavour. Fresh snails are said to be best (there are snail farms round here) eaten en cargolade, i.e. starved to death first, winkled out of their shells and roasted en masse on wire grills. My soft Northern sensibilities baulk at this as they do at force-feeding of geese for foie gras (but I eat it all the same: how easily is one's conscience squared when one doesn't witness the deed) and other such practices, but local snails eaten piping hot with butter and garlic and maybe parsley as well are still delicious, tho' it took me a long time to take the plunge.

garfer said...

Whelks are swimmy snails but they don't leave trails.

Tim Footman said...

Thank you, FN. At least they didn't do them the indignity of serving them in shells not their own.

Now I like asparagus, Murph, and Bowie. But the thin white asparagus is just a status symbol too far.

I wish I didn't like coffee, Richard. It's the only thing to which I've ever been physically addicted.

I thought snails were fed on milk to purge them, Christopher? Starvation does sound a bit harsh.

True, Garfer. Plenty of people will eat, say, mussels but not snails (which are just shellfish with hydrophobia really).

Sarah Gostrangely said...

I've never had snails. I'm a vegetablarian though so I may not ever have the chance.

I do, however, like garlic. And cassette tapes. Though not necessarily together.

(bu-boom---Ching)

oyebilly said...

I've never eaten a snail, the closest I've managed is jellied eels.

Tim Footman said...

Hello, Sarah. Maybe snails are made of molten cassette tape. Or something like that.

Jellied eels are too bony for my taste, Billy. Japanese grilled eel (unagi), that's the thing.

Robert Swipe said...

"It's as if you're a music fan in the late 1980's, and you've just invested in this new-fangled compact disc thingummybob; you splash out on the complete works of your favourite artist on CD. And when you get them home and play them, you realise that what you loved about your old records was the smell of the vinyl, the static as the disc came out of the sleeve, the pop as the stylus made contact, the crackle and the buzz, the familiar label going round slightly more than once every two seconds. And the music you thought you loved was pretty bloody ordinary."

Like *that* could ever happen!!!


[Trudges off, heavy with irony]

xxx
Bob

knut hamlishification: prexino

Some sort of lard/cava combo, possibly?

llewtrah said...

Sorry - not really a comment, but Happy Christmas/Solstice etc (since I don't seem to be keeping up with blogs at present).

Tim Footman said...

Irony's not heavy, Bob. It's as light and fluffy as armpit hair.

And to you too, llewtrah, petal. Hope you're back in the land of the virtually living soonish.