Maltese cuisine is very diverse, having been influenced by the island’s rich history, such as ties to other European countries like Italy, France, Spain, the United Kingdom as well as the arabian ancestry and the large variety of available ingredients thanks to the Mediterranean climate where farmers can grow and harvest different crops during the whole year, not to mention the bounty of the Mediterranean sea. The Maltese greatly adapted and learned how to use the island’s resources for their own benefit and foraging the wild has always been an important element either to survive in difficult times or thrive in abundance from a historic viewpoint.
One of these foragable items on the countryside is the plentiful occurrence of the Brown garden snail or simply the Edible Snail (Cantareus aspersus), which can be found in great numbers during winter and spring, when winter rains turn the landscape lush and green. Many people chose snail hunting as a past time activity, browsing through the vegetation for good sized specimens but often without the need of hard effort one can find enough for a sizable dish. If you would be concerned that picking the snails could negatively affect their population: don’t worry, this type of snail is very productive and even considered as a pest for agricultural crops and garden plants. Beside the mild and rainy months some people have the knowledge or just simply lucky enough to find them even in the summer, when snails are hiding – often in big groups – in shady and humid places such as in rock crevices, rubble walls or just under stones and other items offering protection from the scorching sun.
After collecting, the snails are kept in nets or baskets for a while to cleanse them from the plant residues they ate, then washed to be ready for kitchen use. Sometimes they have been fed with dry pasta even. The brown garden snail is then prepared together with its shell, most often as a stew in a rich and flavourful sauce consisting of tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, herbs and vegetables or in a broth with dark beer. Most often it is consumed as an appetizer. Snail meat is tasty and nutritious: it is a good source protein, vitamin E, magnesium and free of any fat and carbohydrates.
Still, up until this day it is a favoured delicacy by locals and served in many Maltese restaurants, kazin clubs and food festivals. You can also find them in marketplaces and some grocery shops. To satisfy the high demand, in recent times a couple snail farms opened in Malta.
At The Cliffs, we offer it seasonally or as special requests during the year.