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Snail noodles go viral in China during the pandemic - US NPR news story


blue_dolphin
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The story, which I had seen, is essntially true - ish. There are huge exaggerations and absolute errors.

 

What they are describing is a pre-packaged highly industrialised semi-instant version of the real thing (which takes at least 16 hours to make properly). The bagged stuff versions are made in Liuzhou, but few are eaten here. They are vastly inferior to the real thing and cost more! I can go out and grab a bowl very easily anywhere in the city for a lot less.

 

The 'funky' smell is greatly exaggerated. It is just salt fermented bamboo. You can walk past a store and if you didn't look, you would never know what they were selling.

 

The idea that they were invented independently by thousands of laid-off factory workers is a fantasy. The local government, after various failed attempts to establish a trendy industry and boost tourism, finally hit on the idea of marketing luosifen. First, they decided that we needed more luosifen restaurants, so they spent millions on tax breaks and rent holidays etc to encourage more people to open shops.

 

People just carried on going to their old favourites and within months, most of the new places closed. Back to the drawing board. Next, they came up with the idea of an instant noodle. Money was poured into research and in the end they managed to produce something not-quite-instant that vaguely resembled luosifen. They didn't really take off.

 

Then in 2020, they slowly began to creep up the ranking tables to become the top online food purchase in China. More factories opened, some better than others. Some don't even use the essential snails. They are vile.

 

In 2021, the Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Liuzhou and "inspected" one of the larger factories, giving an official seal of approval. It was not reported whether or not he ate the dish.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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Some specific errors.

 

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Slippery rice noodles are first bathed in a slow-simmering broth of laboriously peeled river snails. Then they're topped with odorous bamboo shoots that have been covered in salt and left to ferment for a few weeks, tofu and salty lemon vinegar.

 

The broth is made from pork bones, unpeeled snails, and various spices and simmered for hours. (How the hell do you peel snails anyway?) The snails are not usually served in the final dish. The tofu is in the form of tofu skin. Lemon vinegar? Grow up! It's rice wine vinegar!

 

Quote

Soon, millions were making the dish from their apartments under lockdown.

 

Liuzhou has never had a lockdown.

 

Quote

Several people claim to have created the first apocryphal bowl of snail noodle soup in the 1980s.

 

It's much older than that. There is strong evidence that it was being sold in 1952!

 

Edited by liuzhou
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There is a fairly active Luosifen lovers Facebook page, "我爱螺蛳粉 / I love Luosifen (snail noodles)", at  https://www.facebook.com/groups/125375614155376/ where there is more information. The administrator is someone you "know"!

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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Thank you for the informed and level headed info @liuzhou The answer I expected. Influencers, people taking advantage of situations with the mouthpiece of the internet... All that I'd still love to try the versions you have previously described.

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The noodles' nationwide popularity has breathed new life into Liuzhou. The city was once economically reliant on the manufacture of industrial trucks and cars until the 1990s, when struggling state firms initiated a round of mass layoffs nationwide, including in Liuzhou.

 

This implication that the manufacture of trucks and cars ceased in the 1990s is totally incorrect. In fact, it expanded. The city is better known for its automotive industry than for luosifen. There is a highly successful joint venture with General Motors which produces millions of new-energy vehicles each year. Liuzhou has the highest percentage of electric vehicles anywhere in Asia, if not the world. China's largest steel factory is here and the chemical industry is strong. Luosifen is just decoration on top and is a highly volatile market.

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I should note that the bagged luosifen is available in the USA and in the UK. Don't know about Canada. There is or was also a luosifen restaurant in Seattle which a friend went to. She reported that it wasn't as good as Liuzhou, but better than bagged.

 

The article says that

 

Quote

The soup ($10.99) is filled with wide, round rice noodles and an abundance of toppings. Enough toppings that listing them might be tedious, but, oh well, here’s what I counted in one bowl: a soy-brined hard-boiled egg, blanched baby bok choy, pickled green beans, a chunk of braised pig trotter, crispy pork belly, roasted pork, tofu skins, bamboo shoots, scallions and wood ear mushrooms. A little dish of roasted peanuts — sprinkle on top at your leisure — comes on the side.

 I haver never seen "a chunk of braised pig trotter, crispy pork belly, roasted pork" in a luosifen. He has gone off-piste on that part. Also, the image of the dish at the top looks nothing like the real thing.

 

The restaurant has now closed according to some reports; not to others. I'll try to find out.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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14 hours ago, TdeV said:

 

How does one sun-peel snails?

 

I'm not having any google luck finding out about this. The OP's spelling was "sunpeeed snails". More elucidation, please.

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29 minutes ago, TdeV said:

 

I'm not having any google luck finding out about this. The OP's spelling was "sunpeeed snails". More elucidation, please.

 

15 hours ago, TdeV said:

 

How does one sun-peel snails?


I believe you have quoted a typo that was subsequently corrected. 

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6 minutes ago, TdeV said:

How are they peeled?

 

16 hours ago, liuzhou said:

The broth is made from pork bones, unpeeled snails, and various spices and simmered for hours. (How the hell do you peel snails anyway?) The snails are not usually served in the final dish. The tofu is in the form of tofu skin. Lemon vinegar? Grow up! It's rice wine vinegar!

 

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On 1/19/2022 at 8:05 AM, blue_dolphin said:

I love how you straighten us out on media reports.  What's up with the snails?  Is this story entirely fabricated? 

 

Days later, I am now involved in an on-going Twitter discussion with the author of the article, moderated (sort of) by a mutual friend. No mention about the snails being 'peeled' or 'unpeeled' so far, thank the gods. The things you people get me into!

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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OK I’m prepared to make a total fool of myself. Assuming no one chooses to eat snail shells what word does one use to describe the process of removing the shell?

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

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One 'picks' the meat from the shell round here with 'toothpicks' or if you are sensitive 'cocktail sticks', which are, of course, the same thing, all of which is irrelevant as there rarely are snails in the final dish. They are only used to make the stock. Like people use shrimp heads and shells to make stocks, but don't bung the boiled shrimp bits into their final dish.

 

45 minutes ago, heidih said:

I think of it in terms of extracting the meat versus removing the shell.

 

For the first and possibly last time I agree with Heidih!

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Before @liuzhoustarted posting about "snail noodles" I would have guessed that Luosifen was the latest drug for Rheumatoid Arthritis. Now I am guessing if you eat the soup you will likely cure yourself of RA and many other conditions as well. Here's how I break down the various factoids here.

 

1) "Unpeeled" snails is a very poor translation for "in the shell."

 

2) "Unpeed" snails is most likely a typo, but if not, it means a raw snail you haven't yet irritated enough to pee in your hand. It does make sense in that you would want to get the pee out of the snail before it pees in the stockpot before it dies.

 

3) There are now lots of shortcuts for the broth, available on line if not at Piggly Wiggly. However, a true stock is made with pork bones and initially live snails. If the broth cooks for several hours to achieve maximum flavor, those snails wouldn't be very good eating; i.e. rubbery instead of just chewy like good escargots. 

 

4) Escargots are land snails, no? Luosifen is made with river snails. Nothing has been said about whether or not people eat river snails in other ways, but I'm sure any snail worth its salt would be tough to swallow after eight hours on the stove. Unless you are very entrepreneurial, you are making escargots by stuffing the dead canned ones into pre-washed shells with a ton of garlic and butter, in which case you would use a tiny fork (or a toothpick if it was an impromptu picnic) to extract them and carry them from shell to mouth. There would be no struggle in extracting them of course unless you were eating them raw.

 

Question: is this type of river snail eaten in other ways besides to make Luosifen broth? And if a restaurant serves Luosifen with snails in it, which I gather is not typical, should you assume those same snails were used to make the broth or are they fresh snails dropped in shortly before eating, the way you would do for most seafood soups? Oh, and are these snails, being harvested from the river very muddy? Even if you try and wash them there must be some crud that falls to the bottom of the pot, just the way sand does when you steam clams.  

 

I'm sure my summation only skims the surface, and I could go on and dip deeper, but even my curiosity has its limits. Clearly Luosifen has not given up all its secrets yet.

Edited by Katie Meadow (log)
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4 hours ago, Katie Meadow said:

 

1) "Unpeeled" snails is a very poor translation for "in the shell."

 

Indeed, that is probably the intended  meaning. Unpeed was an obvious typo.
 

4 hours ago, Katie Meadow said:

 

3) There are now lots of shortcuts for the broth, available on line if not at Piggly Wiggly. However, a true stock is made with pork bones and initially live snails. If the broth cooks for several hours to achieve maximum flavor, those snails wouldn't be very good eating; i.e. rubbery instead of just chewy like good escargots. 

Yes, they turn very rubbery and are discarded.

 

Question: is this type of river snail eaten in other ways besides to make Luosifen broth?

 

Yes. See below.

 

4 hours ago, Katie Meadow said:

 

And if a restaurant serves Luosifen with snails in it, which I gather is not typical, should you assume those same snails were used to make the broth or are they fresh snails dropped in shortly before eating, the way you would do for most seafood soups?

 

 

When luosifen is served with snails, the snails are cooked separately as you describe.

 

4 hours ago, Katie Meadow said:

Oh, and are these snails, being harvested from the river very muddy? Even if you try and wash them there must be some crud that falls to the bottom of the pot, just the way sand does when you steam clams.  

 

I have never found then to be muddy

 

4 hours ago, Katie Meadow said:

 

I'm sure my summation only skims the surface, and I could go on and dip deeper, but even my curiosity has its limits. Clearly Luosifen has not given up all its secrets yet.

 

More here

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Snails are a feature of Liuzhou's cuisine in many ways. They are sold precooked in every supermarket. And uncooked in many markets and supermarkets.

 

There are many small restaurants like this one where almost every dish on the menu features snails.

2006416009_snailflavour.thumb.jpg.4229b01465971732be2f82d3a9119806.jpg

 

Some examples from various places.

 

1475915831_CookedSnails1.thumb.jpg.2186ff597d79c921cd5a703caa6f3480.jpg

Cooked snails from the local supermarket.

 

9751398_chillisnails.thumb.jpg.76b0f8704838169ca3e6d05b89ca88eb.jpg

Close up

 

20210411_113822.thumb.jpg.1f63b1d716cd07077fb83d1d7ab95320.jpg.58f99a5b47478ea194f439d78cd49dd3.jpg

Cooked snails on the deli counter

 

938646649_fishwithsnails.thumb.jpg.26afffde4326c851008576a1b7e84cb3.jpg

There is a braised tilapia under that load of snails etc.

 

895855723_riversnails.thumb.jpg.03c82788b5bc0f97bc4a2414befde2f6.jpg

Snails I cooked

 

snails.thumb.jpg.c6ad2c47b331650ce3317cfb59996e33.jpg

More snails

 

720038236_snailmeat.thumb.jpg.eaa8964ed90665188a7d1eda326f3b91.jpg

Extracted, raw snail meat in the supermarket.

 

As you can see, the snails are usually heavily spiced. They are often paired with ducks' feet.

 

1547762530_DucksFeetwithSnails.thumb.jpg.4949c91ee6bad25813f67eb22b53f450.jpg

Snail soup with ducks' feet

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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Seeing all those snail dishes made me yearn for those O'c restaurants in Saigon. Usually there's 5 or 6 different types of snails and lots of different cooking options.

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14 minutes ago, KennethT said:

Seeing all those snail dishes made me yearn for those O'c restaurants in Saigon. Usually there's 5 or 6 different types of snails and lots of different cooking options.

 

Yes. Somewhat similar.

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Amazing pix, @liuzhou.  They must be tasty to warrant the time it takes to suck them out of their shells. It's reassuring to know that snails are doing well somewhere in the world. They have disappeared from my small neck of the woods in the Bay Area. Lack of rain must be somewhat responsible. For some reason they liked clinging to the plastic wrapper of the NYT when it was delivered on wet mornings. 

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