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April 6, 2017

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Home » City specials » Hangzhou

Now is the time to suck up a succulent luosi

CHINESE people’s love to luosi (Chinese mystery snail) is similar to some Europeans’ fancy for escargot.

The water snail looks quite similar to its French relative, but is smaller, has a darker shell and meat, and only lives in freshwater.

Spring is when the mollusc gets plumpest, and it’s the time for Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang people to suck the soft, smooth and succulent meat out of its dark-green shell.

Yes, suck. It is the most authentic way to draw the meat out, and the method is an ancient eastern Chinese tradition.

Aware of how air pressure works, cut off snail’s end tip, so with a little suction at the snail’s head, the meat can be sucked from the shell staight into the mouth.

Sucking is what people can see. What they cannot see is that almost at the same time eaters use tongue to take over the animal’s head, and meanwhile cut the head off with the front teeth.

Only the head is edible. It is crunchy and firm. The rest, too soft and mushy, stays in the shell.

Usually, the entire process takes less than a second. Some people don’t even use their fingers for the shell. Just chopsticks — better than using a toothpick.

The eastern Chinese learn from childhood. And it takes practice.

Many from north China still use toothpicks even if they’ve settled down in east China for long time, let alone expats.

So please do not feel annoyed when hearing locals slurping snails, and hope they do not feel awkward when seeing laowai using toothpicks to take out luosi meat.

Anyway, they are cheap.

Unlike escargots which are often served with garlic butter and a splash of Cognac, these humble freshwater luosi are provided by roadside eateries, since they are cheap and abundant.

The market price of luosi dish — sautéed, boiled or braised — is about 20 yuan (US$2.90). Large restaurants, however, do not serve it, because “it costs time to clean the shells, yet it cannot be sold at good price,” said He Liang, a local leading food critic.

Luosi have gills and an operculum covering the opening of the shell. Before cooking them, locals immerse luosi in water for two or three days, letting them breathe freely so they expel sands and impurities from shell.

Hangzhou locals have been eating the snail since ancient times. When people could not afford meat, harvesting nutritious luosi from nearby rivers, streams, ponds and lakes was a way to fill the tummy.

“A good luosi should be of little earth smell, featuring thin shell, and a plump head,” said He, mentioning there’s a saying that the nutrition from eating luosi this season is more than eating a goose.

This is a bit of an exaggeration, but the snail in spring is fat, sweet and rich in protein.

Since the snail itself is juicy, tender and has rich natural flavors, the cook usually makes it simply, stir-frying with soybean paste and chili, or braising it with ham, bamboo shoots, and some peppers.

To try cheap, mouthwatering Chinese version of escargots, go to restaurants we recommend:


• Juan Juan Restaurant

Feature: Luosi is stir-fried with purple perilla.

Address: No. 1, Jun Shang Jin Zuo, 229 Anye Rd


• Dong Yang Restaurant

Feature: It braises ham, chicken, pork into a tasty broth and then adds luosi.

Address: 1 Changsheng Rd; 355 Shaoxing Rd


• King of Luosi

Feature: It provides luosi made of various recipes.

Address: 243 Jianguo Rd S.


• 7017 Farm Theme Restaurant

Feature: Luosi is braised in spicy and sour soup.

Address: 68 Tonghe Rd


• Huo Long Tang

Feature: It serves sour and spicy luosi in a small wooden barrel.

Address: 169 Wenyi Rd W.


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