Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Excuse me, it’s escargot!

When I first sucked out the snail from its shell, it nearly blew away my breath! Then as advised, I kept my lips closer to the opening of the shell, made it air tight and the snail, in a second, was inside my mouth. As it was the first time, the taste was somewhat awkward for my taste buds. However, as I kept on eating one after another – it became tastier with each gulp. The soup thickened with the ground linseed was more delicious than any soup I had ever tasted.

In spite of being born in Terai, I had restrained myself from eating the delicacy called snail. Partly, it was also the look of the dish that kept me away from savouring the recipe my kith and kin had been partaking for such a long time.

Frankly speaking, I was drawn to eating snails only after I saw the French eating snails as delicacy. When I was offered escargots, as they call it, I had to gulp down few pieces without even chewing. Then slowly I started liking it. When I compared it with the snails cooked in our villages in Terai, I could feel the difference. The French culinary is fabulous and you need not suck the snail out of its shell. However, the Terai dwellers have not been able to modernise the recipes.

Having high protein content
Had changes been made in the recipes, the delicious snails would have been one of the major delicacies along with the momos and chowmeins which have been imported from China. In fact the snails have higher calories and more protein than the red meat, fish and legumes. A research conducted by Ranju Rani Karn and Jeevan Shrestha from Tribhuvan University states that the protein content in “ghonghiBellamya bengalensis (local name for water snail) is 57.5 per cent which surpasses all other food items like cereals, pulses, meat and eggs. The protein value of apple snails Pomacea haustrum is reported to be relatively high at 72.9 per cent. In practice it means that out of 100 gram of snail protein, 72.9 gram human body proteins can be made.

Glut of ghonghi
When the paddy season is on the full swing and people are busy planting rice in the Terai region, the paddy fields, ponds, river streams, all have plenty of snails. This is the season you will find loads of snails kept to be sold in the weekly haats (makeshift marketplace) in the Terai.

You will see women and children busy collecting snails from the public water sources. The collected snails are then left overnight in a vessel to get rid of the soil and waste inside the snail shells. The next morning, the tails are cut so that when cooked it is easier to suck the meat out of the shell.

The snails are then boiled and cooked like regular curries, but the most essential part is the addition of ground linseed which not only makes the gravy thicker but also enhances the taste. The snails are eaten as delicacy along with rice. The combination of rice and snails had been a staple food for ages for the indigenous people in the Terai.

Traditional beliefs
It is believed that snail meat provided the immunity power to the indigenous people like Tharus, Botes, Majhis, Danuwars to fight against malaria when they were the only inhabitants in the densely forested Terai.

In the Tharu communities, the old people with broken bones were suggested to eat snails. The Tharus believe that snails build stronger bones. Eating snails clears the bowel movement and helps keeping the eater healthy. In the past, snails were offered to pregnant women as protein supplement.

In the Terai, still mired in superstitions, the snail is considered a witch’s weapon. If you happen to eat a snail smeared with vermilion, you will die within the span fixed by the witch (a superstition that I abhor). It is believed there are no medications for diseases caused by “jog” (the vermillion smeared snail).

Need to conserve snails
In spite of such superstitions, snail eating is gaining more popularity among the poor people, as it is a cheap and easily found source of protein. Slowly the snail is becoming favourite also among others apart from the traditional eaters like Tharu, Rajbanshi, Santhal, Jhangad, Bote, Musahar etc. However, the overharvesting of snails from the water sources has led to the near extinction of the varieties in high demand.

The rapid urbanisation has not only led to the encroachment of public ponds but has also polluted and dried the water sources which directly affects the snail population. The rampant use of pesticides in the paddy fields is another factor depleting the snail population. The commercial fish farming in the village ponds has also contributed to the vanishing of snails.

These days when I suck the juice out of the snail, it feels like I am also one of the reasons behind the extinction of some water snails which are in high demand in the Terai. However, looking at the brighter side, I ponder modernising the snail recipes and popularising them among the Gen-Y.

Will you eat snails after reading this? Just consider them escargots and you will relish the recipe!




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