A Snail is an Escargot is a Schnecke

In Austria, a snail farmer is revolutionizing modern gastronomy by reintroducing an old staple.

In Vienna, autumn brings cooler weather, colorful leaves, roasted Maroni (chestnuts), and seasonal Heuriger (new wine). The annual Wiener Schneckenfestival (Vienna Snail Festival) is a revived addition to that list but one that’s destined to stay.

On Andreas Gugumuck’s farm, visitors can watch snails munch on leaves, wallow in the sun, and grow up in preparation for their ultimate destiny: to become gourmet food.

Tickets to the annual snail festival offer more than a tasting menu. Once or twice, during the ten-day event, Gugumuck conducts tours of his snail farm before leading visitors across the street to his barn and bistro. The presentation includes a brief detour about the history of snails as a food staple; a look under the boards, where said snails rest and feed and grow; and an optimistic look into a future where alternative foods become main staples.

In addition to the snails, Gugumuck’s farm supplies his restaurant with fresh vegetables such as kale, beans, and squash. His has been a farm-to-table operation long before it became a concept in the US.

Growing food to be used as fresh, local ingredients is something that has existed in Vienna, and much of Europe, for centuries. Most city dwellers live in apartment complexes without much, if any, space to garden. The desire for fresh, self-grown vegetables created a need, and the idea of the “Schrebergarten” was born. Anyone living in the city can lease a small plot (Schrebergarten) within one of the many larger community gardens that surround the city. Here, one can grow (and eat) anything the heart desires–and the climate allows.

After the presentation, we head across the road to the bistro to find a table and start perusing the menu. We order Almdudler (an herbal lemonade) for me, a Sturm (fresh, highly alcoholic red wine that’ll knock out a hippo) for Hermi, and a bottle of Ottakringer (local beer) for Wolfi.

Everything sounds intriguing but we need to see the dishes before we order, so we go check out the kitchen to watch the chef prepare the dishes.

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Chef Hansi is stirring the snail ragout while his assistant lines snail pans with freshly prepared critters and a topping of garlic-and-herb butter. One table over, snail and bacon kebobs and snail sausages are browning on the grill.

Gugumuck’s Bistro is a popular place at any time of the year. During snail fest, however, seating is hard to find and people line up early to sample the snails-only menu. The people of Vienna like good food and drink and aren’t deterred by unusual creations or ingredients. The city has always been a melting pot of cultures and customs, and Viennese cuisine is a symphony of diverse European tastes, predominantly influenced by Italian, Czech, Hungarian, and Mediterranean culinary philosophies.

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Everything sounds intriguing and we don’t want to miss out on a dish, so we order one of everything. Our food arrives and we’re in heaven: Pasternak snail soup with a slice of filo roll, snail ragout, snail bratwurst with a pretzel, and snail on balsamic-onion. Where to begin?​

After sampling everything, I attend to a childhood, snail-staple: Escargot-au-gratin with garlic butter and crunchy, oven-warm slices of french bread. My mother loved it and we shared it often, sometimes making it ourselves. I still have a set of two-pronged forks and clamps–the proper utensils, commonly used for this particular dish.

 

 

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Everything has been absolutely delicious. My favorite? I’m not sure, the au-gratin and the sausage, maybe? No, wait, snail on balsamic-onion? So delicious. But the feast doesn’t have to end. Wolfi and I order Gruner Veltliner (specialty regional wine) and go to buy a jar of snail-and-potato gulasch (stew) to take home and share with Steve. We thought we were done but then we see a mountain of white chocolate-covered snails and Wolfi gets some for all of us to try.

Hermi and Wolfi nibble on their truffle. Personally, I’m not convinced and play with the glazed mollusk instead of eating it. A savory snail dish sounds just dandy but snails for dessert??

A snail is a Schnecke is an escargot… is lots of things to lots of people–just usually not covered in chocolate–white or otherwise.

Everyone is happy, live music is playing, and the weather is holding. It’s been a glorious day and I’d like to stay happy so I procrastinate some more by walking around and taking pictures.

My usual thinking, when facing a questionable task is to just get it over with. This seems like a great strategy and so I stuff the truffle in my mouth and start chewing. Ungh! White chocolate is not my favorite, to begin with. Maybe darker beans and less sugar would work better–kind of like the Central and South American mole dishes. This combination, however, is just not working for me.

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Well, the video tells it all… I should have nibbled rather than lunged. It’s been a great experience, right up until dessert time. It’s been great but it’s time to head home. The event continues, a kids area has been set up and the next generation is getting snail accustomed.

 

 

Preparing the "Schnecken"

It’s been an interesting, educational day and a fantastic experience and I will partake in more snail dishes as long as they’re the savory kind. As we’re leaving, Gugumuck is preparing the next display, putting snail-in-shells on a grating to be grilled. A future snail farmer in the making is watching the preparations.

We won’t be here to watch and munch but I know it’ll be another yummy dish. I take pictures of wildflowers while Wolfi gets the car and then we’re off. This has been an experience to be repeated (sans dessert) when I come back next year.

For those interested in visiting, check out Gugumuck’s Farm and Bistro, in Vienna, Austria.

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About the author

Hi, I’m Carmen “Mica” Alex and this is my blog about science, traveling, life and anything else that’s interesting or beautiful.

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