Let’s go eat some snails! Yea!
No, don’t run away!
Yes, National Escargot Day is about eating snails. But it’s not gross, by any means, and it’s not anything new. Archaeological excavations have found that people have been eating snails since prehistoric times, and dishes involving snails are documented in the works of Pliny. They’re eaten in countries all over the world, cooked in innumerable ways, and considered a delicacy by many people. I say, you can’t call yourself a foodie in New York City without having at least tried snails, in any fashion, at least once in your life. Considering some of the other exotic foods eaten around the world, snails are pretty tame!
Escargot in particular is a French preparation of snails, where the snails are taken out of their shells, cooked in a garlic butter sauce, and then returned to the shells for presentation. They’re incredibly flavorful from the sauce and taste like little pieces of seafood–like a baked clam or an oyster. It’s one of France’s best-known dishes, and it’s so popular there are plates and utensils designed solely to eat this appetizer. I got into eating snails early in my life, having seen them on my Chinese grandparents’ dinner table often when I was growing up. I never shied away from them because they looked icky, because I knew however they looked, they tasted great. When I visited Paris with my friends during college, I was the only one with the chutzpah to order it in a restaurant. I’m really glad that I don’t have any hangups about snails, because escargot, when prepared correctly, is delicate, buttery, and altogether tasty. And I’m glad most of my friends don’t want to eat them, too–because then I don’t have to share!
For authentic French escargot you have to go to an authentic French restaurant. There are tons in New York City (as there is for any authentic ethnic restaurant, it IS New York) but not all of them serve the best escargot, or deign to serve them at all. La Sirene on Broome Street, however, takes a chance on adventurous New York eaters and has made Escargots a la Bourguignonne a star of their menu. “Bourguignonne” is the traditional cooking method for French escargots, made with a butter, garlic, and parsley sauce. Everything is classic and un-messed around with at La Sirene, which makes it stand out all the more: the simple dish must be executed perfectly, and has no bells or whistles to mask a chef’s poor technique. La Sirene definitely knows how to please their diners who are bold enough to order the dish, and servers are always happy to instruct them on how to use the escargot fork (yes, there is a fork made just for escargot!) and properly enjoy the dish. Come to La Sirene and be the one among your friends to step out of your culinary comfort zone and order the escargot, you certainly won’t be disappointed. (And swat your friends’ hands away when they inevitably try to sop up the rest of that amazing Bourguignonne sauce with their bread! Let them order their own snails first! XD)
558 1/2 Broome St
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“-escargot in garlic and butter: we could smell the garlic and butter from the restaurant which made was so pleasant. The escargot came in the shell along with specific tools to hold and remove the escargot. The flavor was really good, the escargot was so tender. We used our bread to soak up every last drop of sauce.”–Diana G.
“My fiance and I started off with the escargot and the goat cheese tart. The escargot is served in the shell, which I’ve found to be rare in NYC. It was awesome! I think it was the best escargot I’ve had in this city.”–Katie S.
And while I do love French escargot in its fatty, buttery garlic sauce (how can anyone say no to things drenched in fatty, buttery garlic sauce?), it’s not my favorite preparation of snails in the world. I can’t let this national food holiday go by (since there’ll never be another holiday dedicated to snails!) without mentioning my favorite, snails in black bean sauce. Here, the snails in this Chinese dish are much smaller than the gargantuan French snails used in escargot dishes, but you get a lot more: where the typical French appetizer includes six snails, the Chinese order may have over a hundred. They’re smaller, but there’s more bang for your buck there! And while the French garlic sauce complements the smooth, buttery texture of the snails, the black bean sauce gives them a punchy flavor enhancement, especially with the fresh jalapeno and ginger in the sauce. Since I’ve been about eight, I’ve loved snails in black bean sauce, and it’s become a staple on my family’s dinner table for special occasions. And we always order them from Hop Kee down on Mott Street, one of the famous nondescript Chinese restaurants of old, the fluorescent lighting and linoleum tables completely masking the fact that they make amazing, inexpensive dishes that people scramble for at all hours of the night. It’s also one of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s favorite dives in New York; I didn’t know about his connection until I started researching for this blog day, but if that little tidbit helps get you in the door, all the better. You can have your fancy escargot forks and dented snail dishes at a French restaurant–to celebrate National Escargot Day, I’m heading to Hop Kee, toothpicks in hand, for one of my favorite dishes of all time.
Hop Kee Restaurant
21 Mott St (between Chatham Sq & Mosco St)
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Hop Kee is famous for their snails and crab plate. I wish I could’ve ordered both and I wish I were with a group who enjoyed drinking a little more because my overall experience here might have been different. The snails were good! I’d recommend ordering some beer or hard liquor to go with your meal if you intend on ordering this plate. It’s one of those “drinking” delicacies.”–Tiffany T.
“One of my favorite dishes here is the Cantonese style snails. Now, for those of you who have not had chinese snails, these are not like your average french escargot swimming in garlic butter. These are small snails, about the diameter of a nickel or quarter (at the large end). This means that the flavor of the meat is relatively mild, unlike their earthy and sometimes fishy european cousins. The meat is tender, with just enough chewiness to let you know you are eating a mollusk. These are stir-fried in a typical cantonese brown sauce with some jalepenos for just a little hint of heat. Delicious for the mildly adventurous. Also, bring some friends as the portions are huge!”–Dave H.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!