It took almost 8 months to learn I was eating snails.
Well not snails, exactly, but snail broth. With my noodles. And lots of it. In fact, every time I ate these noodles, once the noodles were gone, I’d slurp down the broth spoonful by spoonful until I couldn’t spoon it anymore, and then I’d grab the bowl with both hands and tilt it back and pour every last drop into my gaping mouth. Every last drop of snail broth, once or twice or sometimes three times a week.
Only I didn’t know. I wish I didn’t know still. I haven’t eaten the noodles since I found out. I need to. I love them, but now I’m afraid that I won’t be able to slurp down every drop of broth without thinking about snails, dead snails, marinating the boiling broth. Which tastes so delicious, especially with some bamboo shoots, lettuce leaves, tofu skin, rice noodles, and a hefty spoon of chili oil. I just wish I didn’t know.
It’s my Chinese teacher’s fault. Last week in class we started a new unit about “the taste of China.” The first word on our list was 特 (te) which means special. She asked if we’d found, by ourselves, any special tasting food in Beijing. I spoke up fast.
“Downstairs there’s a green noodle restaurant in the basement next to Burger King,” I said.
“Oh yeah, the 螺蛳 （luo si) noodles. Yes, even Chinese people think the flavor is very strong,” she said.
“What?” I said. I didn’t understand what “luo si” meant.
She drew a snail on the blackboard and tapped it with the chalk.
“Luo si.” Tap, tap. “Luo si.”
“No, no,” I said. A different place. There are no snails in the noodles. It’s always really busy. I told her the restaurant slogan.
“Yeah,” she said. “Snail noodles. No snails in the noodles. Just in the broth.”
When class ended, I walked by the place on the way home. I still didn’t believe her, even though I’d been thinking more and more how the noodles did have a strong, kind of strange taste. I reached the green storefront and looked at the massive characters, white ones, above the door. This why it’s dangerous to be bad at reading. They weren’t hard to see.
螺蛳 – snail.
Snail noodles. How I wish I didn’t know.