In Search Of The Elusive 'Congo Meat'
By Iwedi Ojinmah 2 months ago
Quite recently we wrote about the traditional right of passage for Igbo boys and the hunting of the huge cane rat called the Ewi.
Today we will write about another one namely the picking of snails - and by snails we mean the Giant African snail and not those small often rubbery tasting ones the French eat in a white wine sauce with garlic called Les Escargo.
No insult intended.
The Achatina fulica is dreaded in most places where it is not native to, but is beloved in Africa. It gets its bad reputation because it is a voracious feeder and is a vector for plant pathogens, causing severe damage to agricultural crops and plants. It is also a hermaphrodite; where each individual has both testes and ovaries and is capable of producing both sperm and ova. Meaning reproduction is guaranteed no matter what.
It competes with native snail Taxa, is a nuisance pest of urban areas, and spreads human disease if not properly handled and cooked. This snail is listed as one of the top 100 invasive species in the world.
For instance, though it is sometimes called the Giant West African snail it is actually originally from Kenya and Tanzania, but has now meandered literally to all warm weather locations in the world from Asia to the Americas mostly by accident, and as stowaways mixed in with other products.
Nevertheless, despite being looked at as a scourge in most places, it boasts of a sweet delicious meat full of flavour and an addictive taste that Africans thoroughly enjoy.
Two tribes that swear by it in Nigeria are the Edo and the Igbos, while the Mongo people in the Congo are so fond of it, that the individually stewed version is often referred to as Congo Meat.
But to the Igbo, this snail is more than just food. We have a saying, "Ejile neji ireoma aga na ogwu" which literally means tolerance is the key that takes the snail through thorns.
So the snail is used as a learning tool to teach us, children, that one can win or solve difficult problems against any odds by imitating the gentle manner of the snail and not being arrogant, proud, boastful or antagonistic. Transplanted Igbo slaves in Brazil have kept the connection with the snail intact because there they are used for religious purposes as an offering to the deity Oxalá.
Picking snails is normally done in the rainy season and late at night or early in the morning before the snails' retreat from the rising sun and the accompanying heat, which they abhor.
This means that a good lantern or torch light is a must. So is a keen eye and the patience of Job.
In my village in Nkwerre, we used to turn the hunt into a competition between households and families. We formed several groups made up of about 20 and 5 in each group and tried to out pick each other.
We always start from the bushy gardens, banana and plantain allotments and then moved on into the accessible part of the forest. Those who didn't have lanterns and could not afford torch lights would use local plant bark that they lit.
We would normally finish by about 3.00 am or a little longer if the moon was out.
In the end, the winners would tax everybody else by taking an additional 5 snails from their own booty.
As we gobbled up these juicy slugs little did we know then that snails also have tremendous and amazing health benefits as well.
Since they are 80% water, 15% protein, and 2.4% of fat which is primarily healthy fat they are really a body-friendly food. A snail also contains essential fatty acids, calcium, iron, selenium, and magnesium. They are also a rich source of vitamins too as they are incredibly packed with vitamins E, A, K and B12.
To crown this all the meat is also low in fat and cholesterol.
Please, it is imperative that you prepare your snails properly and that you cook them thoroughly. This is because they carry rat lungworm which may cause meningitis in humans if people either handle live snails and then don't wash their hands or eat improperly cooked snail meat. The best way to clean snails is by using Alum or Lime/Lemon juice to get rid of the slime coat
Related: Kenya To Host Inaugural Africa Food Show In 2020
We leave you with one mouthwatering recipe:
Peppered Snails: ( to be served with rice, yam, bole or eaten as is on toothpicks)
6 Large land snails
Alum (a powdery chemical that helps get rid of the slimy goo from the snails)
Remove snails from shell and slice in half, removing the insides.
Wash snails with alum in a mixture of salt and lemon juice.
Wash snails until no longer slimy -- the process may take 30 minutes
Place cleaned snails into a pot of lightly salted water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for an hour.
Remove from water.
In a separate pot, pan-fry onions, scotch bonnet peppers and tomatoes, adding enough water to create a saucy stew. Season as you'd wish.
Cook until snails are tender.
The Yummy is ready for the Tummy.