Snails in Little Saigon

*Hey Friends: This is not a restaurant or food review at all. I love that it gave me an experience that was fun to write about! The authentic snail meal, ăn ốc, sounds delicious.

Last week we had dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant in our city’s Little Saigon known for its snails and shellfish. This great blogpost tells me that it’s a nationally beloved social meal in Vietnam. The restaurant’s Yelp photos boasted greasy shimmery shells, fleshy clams and generous toppings of chili, garlic, cilantro, peanuts and green onion, and we got excited for our foodie adventure.

It’s okay for the real thing to look slightly less appealing than the photos; that happens to all of us. But the blood clams arrived in a grayish hue that made me think of nothing better than a dead vampire’s skin, which is not quite a color I find appetizing. I kind of looked away and slurped one into my mouth. Then I tried a second to be sure: Each one suggested hope but ended in regret. Instead of evoking the ocean, I thought of wet mud (which to my dismay may be the snails’ true and rightful place of origin). Even the peanuts in the topping tasted like old Tupperware.

I don’t think our party of five had ever been this quiet during a meal. I think we were all baffled by the divide between ours and other diners’ merry experience. My mother-in-law didn’t even complain much. Though if she did, we wouldn’t argue with her this time.

That night I missed my mom. Not because she cooks great seafood, or any food for that matter. But for many years she worked near the source of all the freshest seafood in Hong Kong: Sai Kung. Funnily enough, Sai Kung in Cantonese sounds just like Saigon. And I just learned that it is written with the same Chinese characters (西貢)used by the Vietnamese in their former writing system.

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