Periwinkle (sea snails)

Periwinkle are edible sea snails. It originated in Europe (specifically in coastal countries like England) as delicacies, and are eaten in France, Italy, Scotland, England, etc. In areas of China that has a large European expatriate like Hong Kong, there is a lot of Asian-fusion in its cooking. Hong Kong is a Cantonese region, and has a large English population from China’s 100 year lease of the area to Britain.

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China has the world’s largest population, but different areas have completely different dialect and customs — the difference between Spanish and Portuguese (Mandarin is completely different from Cantonese, so it’s not very “politically correct” to ask a person if they speak “Chinese”).

My family is from the Canton region of China, therefore they speak Cantonese. In China, the largest city with a Cantonese culture is Hong Kong and Macau (where the people speak Cantonese and English, and Cantonese and Portuguese, respectively). These two areas have cuisines that combines the influences of foreign cultures to traditional Chinese customs; English in Hong Kong, and Portuguese in Macau.

One of my favorite seafood dishes is periwinkle, Cantonese style (of course). My pen-pal of almost 15 years is actually from England. (I love his accent!) In England, they sell them in food carts like how New York City sells hotdogs, shish-kebab, sausages, etc. (Well, if you’ve never been to NYC, I just don’t know how to explain it to you!) My UK pen-pal says the English like to eat it by boiling it and usually with butter. (That is not how the Chinese eats it, as most Chinese are lactose-intolerant and diary products like butter are never use in authentic Chinese cooking… probably why you’ll rarely see an overweight Chinese person.)

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My mom always makes this for me when I go home (that and my favorite, whole steamed fish), and my kids love it because it’s fun when you eat food that you kind of have to work at — they like sucking it out of the shells! Of course, there’s always the few occasional ones that they just can’t get out, so I get it out for them — reminds me of a mom bird feeding worms to her baby birds, ha!

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This is my mom’s recipe. (You’ll probably never get to eat this unless you’re in a coastal state, you’ll definitely never find it in Iowa!) Periwinkle are sea snails, it’s a fancy way of saying it, kind of like escargot. Although, you should know that periwinkle and escargot are different though. You’ll find them at fish markets. They’re not very expensive, usually like $3.50 a pound, (definitely not more than $5 a pound). A bag full is usually around $8 or so.

First, you have to clean it to get all the sand out. (They are found on seashores.) Wash them until the water runs clear. Then boil them covered. This insures that they are thoroughly cooked and any sand or dirt is removed. Drain your periwinkle.

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Chop up finely garlic and red/green chili peppers (I like using cayenne, jalapeños, or serrano). In a wok (or a large skillet), heat oil (my mom uses vegetable oil) and add the finely chopped herbs. Stir for a few seconds, add the periwinkle, add soy sauce, Hoisin sauce (it means “seafood” in Cantonese… you’ll find all this stuff in the Asian aisle next to the soy sauce); oyster sauce, salt, black bean sauce, and a bouillon cube (the brand that my mom uses for all this stuff is Lee Kum Kee — it’s a Hong Kong company that specializes in Chinese cooking sauces). Stir-fry for about 5 minutes, add a few tablespoons of water, cover and steam for about 2 minutes, and you’re done! (If you haven’t quite gotten how to get the meat out, use a toothpick, it’s what I tell my kids to do.)

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