While researching Ivorian cuisine before traveling to West Africa earlier this year, I was excited and slightly intimidated by one of Cote d’Ivoire’s most popular dishes: giant land snails. Some Google image searches revealed shells as large as a human hand with what appeared to be a fat eel sticking out. I have enjoyed plenty of escargots in France and Spain and have lovely memories of warm afternoons filled with long plates of caracois and beer in Portugal. But these snails were a step or two beyond their European relatives.
I chose Espace 331 in Abidjan’s Cocody neighborhood for the lunch and was pretty excited by the time I sat down. Whenever I’m trying something new and thus a little strange for my body, I like to have a beer, as it gives me some strange assurance that the alcohol will temper the effects of any bad meat. For this meal, a big mug of locally brewed Flag beer was the accompaniment.
The waiter described two sauces available for the snails. My French was not strong enough to understand one of them, but it came through that the second was tomato-based. I chose the tomato option, as it could be a nice counter to potentially gamey meat. For my side, I ordered attiéké, a cous-cous-ish dish made from grated cassava. After ten minutes, the snails arrived.
I initially was taken aback at their size, but still dug in quickly. The snails were slightly rubbery on first bite, but seemed more tender as I made my way through them. The taste? It really wasn’t that distinct and thus dependent on the sauce. The tomato sauced paired perfectly with the snails and really carried the dish. The attiéké was an ideal side, as I was able to sop up a lot of the remaining sauce with several forkfuls. I left a clean plate and then started a lengthy post-meal wander, very full and happy from my first taste of giant snail.