Monday, June 02, 2008

Looking for Snails and Eating Them in Sg. Maaw

The Foochow Chier loi or river snails are called Balitong in West Malaysia. usually they are fried in sambal. Hot spicy food is not favoured by the older generation Foochows.

This is a close up of Chier Loi or river snails favoured by the Foochows of the Rejang Basin. Photo is courtesy of At low tide one can collect as much as four or five kilos.

A great simple plate of chier loi, Sibu style - in caramelised soy sauce.

When my grandmother was still still fairly young, my cousins and I enjoyed one happy outing - collecting snails on the river banks around Sg. Maaw area. This was like enjoying summer camp in the western sense. We would have a leader who got us going and screaming with joy when we had a basketful. The muddy banks were not at all threatening and we did not feel that the mud was intimidating or dirty. Pollution was not in our vocabulary at that time. Life was good and lesiurely. And if you remember the song Summer Time, our days then were exactly like the atmosphere embodied in the song,
Summer time,
and the livin' was easy,
Fish were jumpin',
and the cotton was high....
So, hush , little baby don't you cry.....

And furthermore, we never met any snake or any other undesirable predators,human or otherwise, to inhibit our snail collecting or dampen our spirits. When we returned from our adventure our happy aunts and grandmother would place the snails in pails for one day and one day, to "clean" them.

In later years, when we could not collect any more snails, because we were older and studying elsewhere and snails were disappearing from the river banks, we could buy snails once in a while for our grandmother. Snails could be bought from the salt fish mongers who kept the snails in the gunny sacks. Sometimes we could even see them crawling around, very slowly.

It seems that they could live for many days on dry land.

Eating snails was fun in those days. There was a lot of bonding when we used our tongue to dislodge the "cover" of the snails and suck the whole flesh out of the shell. We always had a good laugh when we ate so noisily. But what I remember most today was our fun looking for them in the mud, between the tree roots, and how we cooked the snails in caramelised sugar and soy bean sauce, pepper and a little wine and lots of crushed ginger. A dish like this today would give us a lot of warm feelings for those by gone days.

Today these same snails can be cooked in many different ways, in curry, sambal, lemon grass,etc. I heard that it is even alright to cook with cheese !! So in a way, our humble Rejang River snails have come a long long way since the 50's!!! From village cuisine to a hot city fusion cuisine!!

Do not worry, it is quite easy to order a plate of snails in the restaurants in Sibu especially. How easy it is now to enjoy this dish.

But none of us would be daring enough to collect snails now along the river banks as we would be so out of practice! We will leave it to the more adventurous, and perhaps even the tourists.

2 memories:

Gaharuman said...

I remember it was calle d konyong!!

Sarawakiana said...

the Ibans call them terkuyong. And they fry them in kicap with lots of lemon grass.

My mum said we could cook it in soup too and when the diners get to the bottom of the soup, they can hear the sand making the sa la sa la sa la sound. It makes the diners feel happy and satisfied. A lot of ginger is used too with a bit of Foochow red wine.


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