In my culinary adventures, few experiences matched my love for the Giant African land Snail. I have wanted to write about this for a long time, so be prepared to follow me on this gastro adventure.
It is the story of a spirited girl who was guided by her taste buds and fell in love with a delicacy beloved by half of her country and vehemently despised by others.
As some of you might know, I have always been food-curious. I also like to travel to destinations in search of food.
My journey to Northern Nigeria
My first encounter was at an eating joint in the ancient Islamic city of Kano, Nigeria. I had just graduated from university and was full of adventure. All graduates had to serve the government for a year in the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) program. I opted to serve in Kano, a 10-hour perilous journey if travelling by road. My parents, who knew me well, did not even protest but ensured I safely flew in to start my service.
My first taste of the Giant African land snail
Kano is a scorching and arid town as it is very close to the Sahara desert. But this evening was balmy, with a dark sky full of stars and promise. My friends decided we would spend our evening at a local joint that had abundant food and drinks. I agreed. When some opted for fried and stewed snails, I did the same. I vaguely remember eating them when I was young.
With my first bite, the tender meat infused with spices and peppers filled my mouth with a burst of earthy flavour, and it was love at first bite! The Giant African land Snail has a distinct, rich taste with a chewy, meaty texture like squid. Some people will compare it to tofu or mushrooms, but I have no comparison. The way it’s cooked influences its taste. If grilled or fried, it will be crispy on the outside and crunchy on the inside. In a pepper sauce, it is chewy and absorbs the juice.
Gastro search of other Snail dishes
For those who know Moby Dick, I became Ishmael in search of her white Whale. I wandered from eating joint to eating joint, tasting the different preparations – grilled, fried, stewed. Still, nothing came close to that first taste. It was my secret indulgence, my foodie mission, that I refused to share. Some may call me selfish, but I could not help myself.
If you walk into any Nigerian restaurant, you will find a snail on the menu, and it is popular, especially with a glass of beer!
That year, I spent most of my money on food, but it was worth it. I consumed several dishes, including Fura da Nono and savoured the local yoghurt, Suya, the delicious skewered meat originating from the North, Kilishi, the grounded spicy dried meat, and so many others. I shall be writing more about my gastro adventure during this period.
The Giant African land Snail – Delicacy or Pest
The irony of my adventure is that the snail would have been brought in from the South of Nigeria, which has a more humid climate with lots of rain. The Giant African land Snails love moist, dark places like the common garden snail or slug eats vegetation.
But they are considered disease-ridden pests in the USA, and Florida continues to battle to eradicate them. They have been known to eat through vast tract of vegetation and destroy crops in the process.
“The Giant African land snails are back in Florida, spurring intensive efforts to destroy the invasive molluscs before they spread and wreak agricultural and environmental destruction.”
It made me realise that what some cultures consider rare delicacies might be unsavoury to others.
However, many African countries and places worldwide cannot get enough of them, and they are imported in vast quantities to satisfy the appetite of Africans in the diaspora. The Giant African land Snails can grow up to 22 cm long and weigh up to 1 kg. Lots of meat for me!
Cooking the Giant African land Snails
Now you want to know how the snails are cooked. You can find many snail recipes on YouTube, but I will still tell you my cooking style. During the pandemic, I discovered an African shop that sold the snails down my road. I bought plenty with the happy knowledge that everyone in my household hated them, and I didn’t have to share.
Giddy as a child, I prepared them. I won’t upset your delicate senses by telling you about cleaning them; you can easily google this. I was a hardy girl who grew up with her grandmother and learned a thing or two about food preparation. More on that later. You can buy them ready cleaned from the shops as well.
Once meticulously cleaned, I cut them up. I threw them in a pot with chopped onions, curry, thyme, stock cube and salt to taste. In the meantime, my household eyed me with displeasure as the aroma (to me) permeated the whole house.
Once cooked, I prefer to stir the snails in a dried pepper sauce stew called the spicy peppered stew. It is finger-licking delicious!
Distinctive snail dishes – A dance of flavours
Snail dishes have different names in different countries and are cooked in various ways worldwide, producing distinctive flavours and textures. Here are a few;
Snails cooked in a spicy pepper sauce are often served as an appetiser or snack.
Snails are cooked in a rich tomato-based stew with various spices and ingredients.
Kontomire Stew with Snails
Snails are added to a stew made from cocoyam leaves and other ingredients.
Kelewele with Snails
Snails paired with kelewele, a spicy fried plantain dish.
Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
Snails cooked with vegetables and spices in a tightly sealed pot create a deep flavour.
Njama-Njama with Snails
A leafy vegetable prepared with snails and other ingredients.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Saka-Saka with Snails
A dish made from cassava leaves, often prepared with snails.
Snails used to make a soup with vegetables and spices.
Snails cooked with palm oil and other ingredients to make a tasty dish.
French cuisine influenced the snails prepared with garlic, butter, and herbs.
Snails prepared with garlic and parsley butter are typically served in their shells.
Caracoles a la Andaluza
Snails cooked in a sauce made from tomatoes, onions, and spices.
Famous Chef cooking snails
Many chefs worldwide have cooked snails as part of their culinary creations. Here are a few notable ones that have worked with snails in their cooking:
He has encouraged the cooking of the common garden snail and prepares the snails in his signature style.
The late Anthony Bourdain ate snails on his travels and wrote about various snail dishes from different cultures.
Alice is a champion of locally sourced and seasonal ingredients and explored snails in the context of sustainable and farm-to-table cuisine with a focus on fresh, quality ingredients.
Benefits of Giant African land Snail
Snails are lean protein and contain vitamins B12 and E, iron, magnesium and other nutrients. They add to a balanced diet.
The eating of Snails dates back to ancient civilisations like the Romans and Greeks. The Romans called the Roman escargot dish “Cochlea”.
Sustainability and Farming
Many years ago, before they became nearly impossible to find, traders in Nigeria would hunt the Giant African snails in woods and forests of villages and hamlets and sell them snails for good profit. Finding the snails soon became challenging, and farmers then realised they could be cultivated.
Snail farming contributes to sustainable food production and is affordable, with little requirements for space. However, farmers must consider responsible sourcing and agriculture, especially in places with high consumption.
My journey continues
Snails remain my ultimate culinary pleasure. So, the next time you see me at a restaurant, fiercely guarding my plate of succulent peppered snails, know it’s just a food lover lost in her world of flavours.
I am also reminded that food is an invitation to embrace new tastes and cultures and celebrate the joys of culinary exploration.
My adventure with the Giant African land Snail has been fascinating. Across the globe, many regard its smaller counterparts as a sought-after delicacy. Snail dishes are cherished for their taste and for being a source of lean protein. The commitment to sustainable farming for these creatures is commendable. I’m eager to hear your insights if you’ve tasted this unique delicacy.