The Snail and I

Posted by:
Susan Rooke
March 23, 2017

The vernal equinox has come and gone. Glen and I have been in our forever home a month now. And how’s this for a sobering thought? Nearly one-quarter of 2017 is behind us. Already.

And here I am without having prepared snails in garlic butter once this year.

Have you ever eaten snails? Okay, fine; let’s be French . . . escargots? If you have, do you remember your first time? I do. As with any true love affair, I will never forget my first time. All it took was one bite to set off that euphoric shiver in my brain. If we’re calling them “escargots,” we can call it a “frisson.”

I was in Hong Kong. It was 1965. My mother and I were eating dinner in a restaurant called Jimmy’s (which is still serving up escargots today. Find the website here). And for some reason, I was dressed as a British schoolgirl. God only knows why, but let’s say it was my mother’s fault. Because it was.

It was early in our year of traveling and living in Asia. Hong Kong, still under British Crown rule at that time, was one of our first stops. My mother had put it on the itinerary because her lifelong passion for exotic locales was matched by her passion for beautiful clothes (not to mention jewelry). Hong Kong, that densely populated, polyglot cosmopolis, was known for its bespoke tailors and shoemakers, custom jewelers, and just generally fabulous shopping of all kinds. And of course, restaurants. Anything legal—and possibly illegal, too—that we could ask for was within walking distance of our hotel.

Soon after we arrived in the city, my mother found a dressmaker. For herself, she ordered a couple of suitcases full of lovely dresses and separates in luminous silks. For me, she ordered the garb of . . . a British schoolgirl. Or BS, for convenience (and accuracy). Why did she do this? I think it was due to some idealized notion of British customs. She was an insatiable reader of British mystery novels, and a confirmed Anglophile.

As I said, it was the mid-1960s. I had hopes of wearing something fun, something Carnaby Street. Something mini-skirted, especially. No. What we picked up from the dressmaker’s that summer day was a bland white blouse with a Peter Pan collar, and a drab, shapeless, almost ankle-length houndstooth skirt. She could have saved her money and bought me a wool sack.

The finishing touch? Custom-made shoes. Big ones. Sturdy, black polished leather, lace-up, with rigid, extra-wide square toe boxes. To be worn with ankle socks, of course. I looked like I was wearing huge, hard-shelled black beetles on my feet.

That evening we walked from the hotel to Jimmy’s for dinner: my mother in one of her new dresses, I disguised as a BS and feeling like BS through and through. My shoes were so stiff and unyielding that I had blisters by the time we reached the restaurant.

But then those snails came to the rescue.

They were unforgettable. My first taste hooked me for life. The bubbling-hot, garlicky butter they bathed in; the silken resistance of the flesh when I bit down, the mild, loamy earthiness of the flavor . . . Sopping up the garlic butter from the empty shells with crusty bread was lovely too, but it couldn’t hold a candle to eating the snails themselves. I have no idea what else I ate that night, and no clue what my mother had. I’d ordered the snails at her urging, but not before she taught me how to pronounce the word they were called on the menu: “escargots.” Which, of course, just added to the glamour of the occasion. At that magical moment, the snails overshadowed everything else. BS outfit? What BS outfit?

Too soon, however, dinner was over, and we had to walk back to the hotel. That’s when the night sky over Hong Kong opened up, dropping buckets and buckets of water on our heads and flooding the streets. Guess what? My mother made me take off my shoes.

“No! They can’t get wet—they’ll be ruined!”

So I took them off and carried them by their laces back to the hotel. It was a relief, actually, as I was limping pretty badly from the blisters by then. Heaven only knows, though, what was in that water pouring over the pavement, washing my raw feet in its toxins. (If we’d been in Bangkok at the time, I might have suffered consequences.) I’m just lucky she didn’t make me take off my clothes. My wool skirt was starting to smell like wet dog.

If it hadn’t been for the snails, the evening would have been a disaster. Leaving aside the risks of being forced to slosh on bare, wounded feet through the gushing streets of Hong Kong, there was the red-faced humiliation I felt, the shame to be seen in public wearing that deeply hideous BS ensemble. Honestly, if Jimmy’s had dropped into the harbor between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon during dinner and taken me down too, I would have been fine with it. (Assuming I’d already eaten the snails.)

All of this raises a question: Why are the snails at Jimmy’s on the blog menu today? Because I just came across these treasures in a moving box. And you know what it means, don’t you? Now this forever home kitchen is really open for business!

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6 comments on “The Snail and I”

  1. I had snails for the first time on a cruise ship sailing over the brightest and bluest Caribbean water I had ever seen. When I visit New York--usually once a year-- I walk to 22 Mott St, Ping's Chinese Restaurant, and eat my weight in snails.

    You penned a beautiful story about a horrendous outfit and snails which made me laugh aloud and want to read more. Brilliant!

  2. The thought of eating snails can't get passed my brain much less my mouth 👄!!! 😑
    I am so glad you have so many enjoyable experience to share,, that at the time was BS! :😀
    Give Glen a hug 🤗, for me!

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