Kitchen & Pantry

Kuhol: edible snails

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Among the many varieties of gastropods, I still have no idea which one the common kuhol falls under. By kuhol, I refer to the variety with round shells, the kind you see in the photo. That’s the kind I use for cooking guinataang kuhol or snails in coconut milk.

There is another variety, the one with shells the shape of an ice cream cone which I’ve never learned to prepare. Friends told me they tasted better than the ones with round shells, I got intrigued, I bought a couple of kilos and brought them to a potluck party. To my utter embarrassment, I apparently failed at cleaning them thoroughly because there was still mud inside the shells after cooking and the snails’ meat tasted really bitter. I never bought those snails with cone-shaped shells ever again.

Although snails are widely available all year ’round in the Philippines, they are especially abundant and cheap during the rainy season. If stories are to be believed, they are cheapest just before November 1 when Filipinos observe Undas or All Saints’s Day because when people start cleaning their dearly departed tombs, snails are harvested by the sack in swampy areas. If you’re conscious about where your snails come from, it might be best to avoid buying them from mid-October until the first week of November — you know, just in case the stories are true. At any rate, you can enjoy your snails for the rest of the year.

Of course, it’s best if you can verify the source of the snails. Kinda hard if you buy from wet markets because no one really keeps track of where the produce sold there comes from. Even Imelda fish from the filthy Pasig River find their way to the wet markets. But there are bona fide snail farms and some raise snails organically. I know because in the mid-80s, a fellow law student started his golden snails farm business and it thrived for a couple of years before he moved on to other business ventures.

So, if you like snails and you like them spicy with thick coconut milk, try making guinataang kuhol. They are delicious.

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