Now, there are portions, and portions, each being a measure of your own personal capacity to enjoy. | AMALIA ESTABEN

Here in Mancor de la Vall they just love a local fiesta, and celebrate everything from the opening of a packet of crisps to a ‘CARAGOLADA’ – that’s a ‘snailfest’ to the uninitiated, and the latest one took place on Sunday November 5 in our small, yet vibrant village.

Now . . . I’m not a huge fan of snails, either as pets or a culinary treat. I have tried most things whilst spinning my way through the gales of gastronomy; I’ve even eaten a grasshopper, chocolate covered earthworms, and a jellyfish! Well, I thought it was a jellyfish . . . maybe it was a trifle? To be fair, I struggle with snails, yet here in Mallorca they are a delicacy that locals go bonkers for! I think I was put off by my very first ‘escargot’ experience in France, back in the 80’s.

The traditional marriage of ‘gastropod and garlic’ is the same here as it is in France, yet in my humble opinion, a totally different chew. The French snails I encountered were rather tougher than their Mallorcan cousins, and required a lot more mastication. Their shells weren’t quite as pretty as ours either! The French snails also seemed to be a lot larger, and once I had wrestled them out of their shells, I was confronted with something the size of a baby’s arm. Quite scary on a delicate fork! Perhaps I just had a bad experience, but sadly the memory stuck.

My first culinary experience of Mallorcan snails was in a mountain restaurant when I saw one doing backstroke across my cauldron of ‘arroz brut’, even though I had been assured there were no snails in the dish! You just can’t trust them, can you? OK, so it wasn’t exactly swimming, but it was definitely bobbing up and down between the chanterelles!

I decided to take the plunge and eat it. “But it’s got little antlers,” said Other Half, trying to put me off. “And it’s smiling!” It DID have little antlers, but it was soooo not smiling. It was well and truly cooked. It was also soft, very tender and quite delicious, encouraging me to actually ‘go local’ and order an entire portion on the side.

Now, there are portions, and portions, each being a measure of your own personal capacity to enjoy. Mine, I discovered, maxed out at around six. Six baby boomers, small and tender, were just about right, dipped in garlic mayonnaise, and helped down with a generous ‘copa’. I often watch in total awe and admiration as locals, including small children, consume entire mountains of Mallorcan molluscs without flinching, evicting them skillfully from their shells with a quick flick of a cocktail stick.

But whether you like snails or not, you have to admire the great lengths locals go to in bringing them to the feasting table. First there’s the ‘gathering’. You CAN actually buy them, but Mallorcans like nothing better than foraging for their traditional delicacies. The best season for snails is both spring and autumn, yet they are always present whenever there has been rainfall, and can generally be found in restaurants serving traditional Mallorcan cuisine, throughout the year.

So, after a good downpour, you will find the ‘snail spotters’, hunched low as they comb the lanes for their ‘caracoles’. It makes you wonder where they all come from! Not the Mallorcans, but the edible snails! After the rain there are hundreds of them, gliding down the damp lanes, unknowingly heading towards the big pot. But this is seriously slow food, and doesn’t just end with the catch. Next comes the preparation.

You don’t know where snails have been or what they’ve been eating, so you need to control their diet for a few days. Most locals put them in a closed wicker basket or birdcage and feed them lettuce for a few days. Then they gorge them with flour for a further two days to ‘purge’ them of all impurities. The final rinsing can go on forever, but is necessary to get rid of any dirt or grit. Now, finally, they are ready to cook.

The CARAGOLADA here in Mancor de la Vall was a highly popular event, offering as many snails as you could possibly eat, along with olives and a bounty of sweet ‘bunyols’, all washed down with local wine and cava. Although not MY cup of caracoles, snails are definitely one of Mallorca’s favourite specialities and well deserve a celebration all of their own. But I’d still rather have a sticky chicken wing. Ha! Enjoy!