Snails History

[In Greek it is called saligari, saligaros or saliagas. Also known as hochlios or kochlios on the island of Crete]

Snail shells are often found at archaeological sites, one of the earliest findings was at the Franchthi Cave (Argolida) and dates back to 10,700 AD. Later, it would seem that snails were traded; Cretan snails were found on the island of Thera (Santorini) shortly before its volcanic eruption (Doumas C., Thera, sel.118).

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Snails History

The language of taste

The physiology of the snail puzzled the Greek physician Galen in the 2nd century BC; he was unable to classify it according to one of the existing categories. “It can not be deemed either a bird or a hydrous invertebrate […]”, he writes. Indeed in order to reach a decision he had to examine their nutritional properties and consider the classification of tetrapods; otherwise it would have meant that he would have had to omit them completely. Something that he could not really do as , “[…] all Greeks eat snails on a daily basis. Their flesh may be tough, but when they are cooked they are indeed truly nutritious.” (Galen: On the Properties of Foodstuffs, III, 2, 1).

Until the beginning of the 20th century the consumption of snails was common for the majority of Greeks: some chose them for their tasty flavour, poverty imposed them on others by, however they were also a popular choice on long religion fasts as they are one of the foodstuffs permitted by the church. Their increased consumption was admired by foreign travellers during the Turkish occupation.

“They collect snails and keep them for some days in a jar until they are clean. They then boil them for hours in salted water and add a sauce heavily flavoured with garlic, celery and spices.” (Simopoulos, Foreign Travellers…, B’, p.573).

Of course it is the Cretans that are unrivalled in their use of snails. Found in abundance and truly delicious thanks to the island’s aromatic herbs, they have become the basic ingredient for dozens of inventive recipes and have been integrated into each and every meal of the day. In the 19th century mountain dwellers even ate them for breakfast! Moreover, they have always been an important income for Crete, from pre-historic years they have been a stable export. In the 19th century Crete sent large quantities of snails to the East and to Egypt (R.Pashley, p.118) to the Christian populations that were fasting.

Nowadays, great quantities are exported overseas. Large or small, the snail is superb both as an appetizer or a main course. With the first autumn showers, collectors venture out into fields at night with a torch in hand.

Once they have harvested the snails they keep them in baskets and feed them flour, pasta and semolina for 5-6 days. They then clean away the faeces and feed them once more. After 2-3 days the shell mouth becomes covered with a membrane and they are ready to be cooked. The snails harvested after the first autumn rain are the most flavoursome. In summer they are to be found under aromatic bushes and stones, once harvested they do not need to be fed and can be cooked immediately. Snails can be eaten in a large variety of different ways: with fennel, with broad beans, with artichoke, with potatoes, with courgettes, with vine leaves, with knapweed, with leeks, with greens, with fried greens, with rice, with rock salt, charcoal grilled and served with an oil and lemon dressing or garlic sauce (as on the island of Paros), as stew, fricase, with egg-lemon terbiye sauce, with savoré  sauce (as in Kochli bourbourista – Crete) and even as moussaka or pie.

Source: The Language of Taste, Marianna Kavroulaki, Asprimera Publications