Sunday, February 12, 2012


Hainan is often described to Americans as the Hawaii of China. The comparison is reasonably apt--Hainan is a tropical island with a traditional culture that is different than the mainstream culture of China (although, like Hawaii, a certain number of mainlanders have migrated there and brought their culture with them). As one might expect from an island province, there is a lot of great seafood to be had in Hainan, including seafood of the street food persuasion. One highlight in the provincial capital, Haikou, was the Ding Luo (丁螺), variously translated as whelks or oncomelania. Either way, the point is that they're marine snails and they taste great.

The whelks are cooked in an oily, peppery broth in a large pot. As they are ladled out of the pot, they make a satisfying clattering noise, like dropping pebbles into a porcelain bowl. There isn't much to the presentation other than the shells themselves.

Eating these whelks is a great pleasure for the senses. All you need to do is put your mouth over the top of the shell and suck. Before you know it, a small spiral of snail meat (and some spicy broth) has rocketed into your mouth (sometimes it takes a bit more sucking than others...I had the most trouble with the larger/longer shells, for what it's worth).

In case you were wondering, here's what the meat looks like out of the shell.

The snail meat is seafoody, chewy, and a tad gritty. The broth has bits of pepper in it and is a salty, oily, spicy accompaniment to the tiny meat. These are a lot of fun to eat, both for the unusual eating method and the unusual shape of the meat. They are available all over Haikou for around 5 yuan per bowl; definitely worth a try if you are in the area.


Scott said...

I know I'd probably die if I ate one of those, but it's still really tempting.

Frank Kasell said...

There's only one way to find out. Let me know how it turns out.

Mike said...

I am so down. This looks awesome.

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