Slurping Snails

“Just copy me,” Imad said as the vendor placed two steaming bowls of escargot before us. He picked up a snail shell and, using the toothpick, pulled out the little black mollusk. He tipped his head back and gulped it down. Imad proceeded to smile at me when he saw my slightly horrified reaction. “What?” he asked. Although I am an open-minded individual, this was not at all what I had imagined. My only experience eating a shelled creature was one snail from a can, and without the actual shell.

We stood by the side of the wooden cart in the square of the Chefchaouen medina. There were snail shells covering the wood, indicating that this vendor did great business here. Although it was late at night, the medina was alive with lights and the air buzzed with the sound of many voices.

Mimicking my friend, I picked up a snail shell—but dropped it immediately. It was too hot to touch, fresh out of the pot.

“Careful, it’s hot. Let it sit,” he advised.

Stubborn, I pinned the shell against the bowl while I pulled out the snail with a toothpick. Its stringy, long, black body dangled off my toothpick. I didn’t think, I just popped it into my mouth, savored it for a moment, then swallowed. It wasn’t slimy like they were when they’re alive—it had a slight chew with a meaty center, but an odd after-taste of something unique to the species. I looked over at Imad, who picked up another snail shell and, instead of using the toothpick like he’d done previously, slurped the snail from its shell. I followed suit—it was actually easier to eat it that way. I didn’t have to actually see what it was I was eating. I didn’t have to think. And this way, there was also an oddly flavorful liquid inside the shell as well.

Imad was nearly half done while I continued to slowly pick through the snails one by one, dropping empty shells on the wood as so many others had done before me.

“Are you from Portugal?” A young man beside me spoke English.

“No, I’m from the U.S.” I responded.

“In Portugal, we eat snails all the time. They’re usually different, but we get a lot from Morocco.”

“Do you speak Spanish?” Imad chimed in. “¿Hablo espanol?”

The two of them exchanged words in Spanish that I didn’t follow. Instead, I just focused on my snails. One by one, I continued to slurp them. Some of the bigger ones were a bit extra meaty—gooey even. I didn’t like the texture of those.

“Do you want any of these?” I asked Imad.

“No thanks. Come on, you can finish them,” he encouraged.

I stared down the four remaining snails and finished them. I then watched him drink his bowl of mysterious green liquid.

“I drink this?” I eyed it.

“Yes,” he responded.

“Don’t even tell me what this is. I don’t want to know,” I said quickly.

“Okay. I won’t.” He laughed.

I sipped it slowly. It was no longer boiling hot, but was the same flavor as the liquid in the snail shell. I realized it was the broth the snails had been cooking in. Except this was spicier than what was in the shell. It was hot on my tongue.

I finished it, feeling quite triumphant.

“It’s only 2 dirhams.” Imad dug into his pocket for change.

I did the same with my purse, pulling out a two-dirham coin and thanking the vendor.

—Michaella Wiss

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