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May 14, 2008 08:36 PM

Cantonese snails / periwinkles [split from L.A. board]

This topic was split from a discussion on the Los Angeles board. If you have tips on where to find Cantonese snails with black bean sauce in the L.A. area, please see this thread:

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The snails/escargots described here are called periwinkles. They are kind of on the chewy side, and they are definitely NOT American chinese food, as I remembered eating those back in Hong Kong.

Conch is a heck of a lot bigger, although I can see where they are similar in the chewiness factor. I never care for periwinkles, especially when I have to bite down to make sure I get the meat part and not the entrails.

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  1. -gak- I'm so glad my dad was never able to finagle me into eating them!

    1. They're listed as snails on the menu. If you asked for periwinkles I'm sure they'd give you a blank stare. The snail in black bean sauce is a sea snail and French escargot are farm raised land snails.

      There ain't much of anything inside so if you're looking for the meat part good luck.

      21 Replies
      1. re: monku

        OK, this is what I recall. My dad and his cronies would take off overnight to fish? gather? these "snails" in/around Stockton area (not sure), but I doubt the ocean or sea was involved. Then the soaking period began...

        1. re: Sarah

          I don't know where they get them, but maybe I should have used the word "aquatic", differentiating them from the garden (land) variety. I'm sure they're found in lakes, bays, or the Stockton Delta?

          I got some little tiny ones in my aquarium, but I don't think I'd eat them.

          Hawaiian apple snails are pests in the taro paddies, but Roy's at the Ritz-Carlton in Kapalua serve it as a delicacy.

          1. re: Sarah

            Sarah, anyway to contact your dad or his cronies about this fishery (and other delta fisheries?). I would love to chronicle it as I have not read anything about it.

          2. re: monku

            Well, I speak cantonese so I won't be saying either snails or periwinkles.

            You eat the whole thing? We peel off the little cover, stab the suckers with a toothpick, eat the meaty part, and discard the ends (entrails), mainly because it tends to be sandy. It's been a long time since I eat one, and I don't miss it.

            Anyway, even if you eat the whole thing, you have to eat a lot to get full. These things are like 1 inch long at most? Kind of reminds me of the crawfish (discard more than one eats).

            1. re: notmartha

              I haven't had them in a long time, but I remember you could pick them out with a toothpick, or some places would grind off the end of the snail and you could suck out the meat. I really don't think I experienced any sand because they soak them so they expell any sand, grit or whatever.

              1. re: notmartha

                It's been a long time since I had those things. The ones I've had were gathered from local taro patches which were fed by fresh water streams coming down from the mountains in Hawaii. The black "snails" were set in a large pan and left to expell any dirt or solids contained in their intestinal tracts for a few days. After that, they were scrubbed to take off any moss off the shells then sauteed in a large wok with the black bean sauce, garlic, and "chitzu" (sp) which is an aromatic leafy herb.

                Periwinkles as I remember were small salt water snails found in tidal ponds near rocky shorelines. We gathered and boiled them in plain salt water and picked out the meat with safety pins or toothpicks.

                I have never seen these served at any restaurants anywhere. My guess is that this would be considered "peasant food" and not served at finer eating places? Just my thoughts.

                1. re: Clinton

                  Periwinkle is used in Vietnamese bun oc (snail), a tomato-based noodle soup.

                  1. re: Clinton

                    Widely sold at Asian grocery stores, though.

                    1. re: Chandavkl

                      Yes, I've seen them packed in the frozen section in Asian markets but have never seen them as entrees on mainstream restaurant menus? Not here in LA at least?

                    2. re: Clinton

                      I don't know if they were periwinkles, precisely, but at the Koreatown sushi bar Busan, we got served a big panchan dish of little snails, looking very much like the ones described here (complete with the little lid [operculum?] on the shell opening). We pried out the bodies and ate them with toothpicks. Cynaburst wouldn't touch 'em but PayOrPlay Jr. and I enjoyed them very much. No black bean sauce there, of course.

                      Edit: I got to thinking about this and wondering about how snails are used in Korean and Korean-Chinese and Korean-Japanese cooking. I found a number of references to other people being served the tiny snails as panchan at other Korean sushi bars, and also a rave about, and appetizing picture of, snails in spicy noodles at The Prince. I don't see snails mentioned on any of the Korean-Chinese menus available on the web, but who knows?

                      1. re: PayOrPlay

                        I just found out snails in NYC Chinatown are in fact periwinkles.

                        1. re: PayOrPlay

                          Notmartha you must be correct, the snails in NYC Chinatown look exactly like periwinkles so they must be.

                          1. re: krom


                            It doesn't list the periwinkle with the Pacific Ocean just the Atlantic. Could this be the answer to why this dish isn't served on the West Coast?

                            1. re: krom

                              I see them frequently live at the Asian markets and they're inexpensive so it must be a type they can get locally. Maybe as one poster said its too much like "peasant food" and maybe too much trouble for the light demand to soak and clean for restaurants to deal with.

                              1. re: monku

                                yep, you can get periwinkle meat (sans sell) in vacuum packed bags int he frozen section of ranch 99 on occasion.

                                1. re: wilafur

                                  Chandavski mentioned something about the Fujian province being the poorest of the poor. But can you actually get periwinkles in the shell in LA?

                                  1. re: krom

                                    yep. frozen, in vacuum bags at ranch 99 as well.

                                    1. re: krom

                                      krom, i've had snails (still in the shell) at Mama's Kitchen 1718 S. New Ave. in San Gabriel. It's on the corner of Ralph and New (google map it, click on street view to see the mama's kitchen sign). I had when that dish when I was just a little boy, but I can distinctly remember all the flavors. They were prepared in something like a black bean sauce, with more emphasis on the Thai basil, and served in this snail-service type pan. (little holes in a elevated serving dish. You should call Mama's Kitchen before you head over and ask about the snails of course. I remember them being succulent and most robust. I've been thinking about snails too, so your inquiry, the thread where this first started, prompted immediate intrest on my part. Also, this is my first entry in chowhound! I know that you will find our restaurants to exceed your expectations in our wonderful SGV.

                                    2. re: wilafur

                                      Can't imagine what else you would make without the shells. Only thing I know is with black bean sauce in the shell. Otherwise a plate full of those buggers not in shell would look unappetizing. Kind of like a plate full of slugs.

                                      Maybe they sell it for bait. I've bought frozen squid and mussels for fishing bait at the Asian markets....cheaper than they sell it for at the bait shops.

                                      1. re: monku

                                        I've bought some before at 99 Ranch Market just out of curiosity and found them very tough (like rubber) and tasteless. They were thoroughly cleaned of their digestive tracts and were vacuumed packed. Very inexpensive but not worth anything for taste. My advice...don't waste your time or money on the frozen stuff.

                            2. re: Clinton

                              I have been served periwinkles in restaurants in Montreal, but it is rare. I've had them a few times in chinese restaurants in the black bean sauce, but I also once had them at Au Pied de Cochon as part of their Seafood platter (a French style trotters and snouts restaurant here). I guess I never thought of them as "peasant food" because it was such a rare treat to get them, but I suppose it is possible!

                        2. Ha! I just saw live periwinkles (snails) at Freshia Market in Torrance yesterday for $4.49 a pound. They were crawling inside a large tub in the fish section. I believe they were the saltwater variety but not sure?

                          1. iirc, they have periwinkles at the west coast seafood buffet in hacienda heights.