Snail Tale: A Guide to Eating Caracoles in Seville
Spring in Seville is like a four-act play: incense and heavy religious floats of Holy Week are followed by sherry and lively dancing at the city fair. Next comes the intense heat, leaving the city vacant by day and, finally, signs proclaiming:
HAY CARACOLES: Snails Here
While the squishy little animal is enough to make any Anglo squirm, caracoles are anticipated the same way we wait for sweet corn on the Fourth. During the late Spring, andaluces flock to the streets when the temps start to cool down to slurp up caracoles by the tapa-full. The season is short – mid May to late June – and be prepared to pay at least 1,80€ for a tapa (or bring them home for about 5€ per 200g).
How they’re prepared
During the late Spring, snails become the star of many dishes – arroz con caracoles, conejo con caracoles and bulging cabrillas en tomate are popular. Market stalls and even supermarkets will sell bundles by the kilo, and they’re relatively easy to make at home. It’s no surprise – mollusks have existed in the human diet since the Bronze Age and are considered a delicacy in many Western European cultures.
Despite the Spanish aversion to spicy food, snails are boiled in a broth riddled with aromatic herbs and peppers. After the snails have been cleaned, spices, an orange peel, cayenne pepper and onion are added to the broth and boiled. Even on balmy nights, caracoles are enjoyed with a beer.
How to eat them
Your tapa of snails will come in a small, shallow dish full of the broth, called caldo, and a spoon or pair of toothpicks. Yes, the heads and antennae are still attached, so it’s best to just close your eyes and slurp. If the little buggers don’t slide out, use the toothpick to fish the fleshy part out of the shell. Make sure you have a napkin on hand – the spicy broth will likely drip right down your chin!
Where to zampar
While Córdoba, Seville’s neighboring region, is famous for their large street stalls boasting nothing but the crawlers, the Andalusian capital is bursting with bars that tout the city’s best.
This tiny locale on Calle Esperanza de Triana is open all year, but busiest during the snail season. The critters are cooked in a huge vat behind the bar while the proprieter pours beers and throws sandwiches on the grill. Diego is legendary, from the piping hot, spicy sauce the snails are cooked in to the plates balancing on the empty kegs of Cruzcampo outside. (Calle Esperanza de Triana, at the crossing with Evangelista. Open daily for lunch and dinner.)
Named for the first sailor to complete a round-the-world trip by boat, El Cano is an old fisherman’s neighborhood between Los Bermejales and Heliópolis. The tile-lined bar is surrounded by a tall brick wall, perfect for resting your plate on a warm night. These buggers are a bit more costly, but the neighborhood has extra ambience – the fisherman’s chapel is next door and the towering Quinto Centenario Bridge just down the street. And if, in the end, snails aren’t your thing, the bar has everything from coagulated blood with onions to tripe. (Take the 34 or 37 bus from the city center to Los Bermejales and get off when you see restaurant El Hurucán. The bar is on the other side of the chapel. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday – Sunday).
Cat Gaa left the skyscrapers of Chicago for the olive groves of Andalucía five years ago. When she’s not wrangling first graders, she’s at her neighborhood cervecería with friends, enjoying snails and every other Spanish food imaginable. Follow her at Sunshine and Siestas, or on twitter and instagram at @sunshinesiestas
Check out my article on Cat's blog about Eating Ears in Madrid! What is your favorite strange Spanish food?