Oc Luoc - Fine dining or sidewalk food
Oc, or snails, is a famous late afternoon light meal in Hanoi. Oc luoc, or broiled snails, in particular, is the most preferred style of cooking by customers. Oc luoc has a one-of-a-kind exotic taste that locals and foreigners alike start to constantly crave for after getting a taste of the dish. In fact, the special recipe has gotten so popular that not only sidewalk eateries but even some five-star restaurants have started serving the deliciously addictive oc luoc.
But if you’re looking for the best oc luoc in town, sidewalk eateries are still the place to go. Local Hanoi oc eateries cook the dish according to the authentic culinary traditions of Hanoi, a no surprise why patrons prefer the streets than fine dining when it comes to the famous meal. Some street diners even have a calm, relaxing atmosphere of trees and church bells all around, making your meal even more delectable and in fact unforgettable.
Sidewalk eateries serving oc luoc get their snails from fields, ponds, lakes and rivers – never from the sea and assuring their freshness. The meal is spiced up with lemongrass, ginger and lemon leaves to balance out the protein snails are rich in. Preparing oc luoc takes a lot of time and care and so it takes one to be really passionate about the food to cook it perfectly.
To cook oc luoc, the snails are first left alive overnight in rice water and lemon or pomelo leaves to loosen their dirty innards. They have to be washed several times to make sure they are really clean for cooking. They are then boiled with pomelo leaves, lemon grass and ginger to create a balance to the so-called Yin and Yang. The snails are eaten with a mixture of fish sauced, lime, sugar and finely chopped lemon leaves.
Oc luoc is a generally affordable meal, in fact very cheap. As such, they are not served in official, business and high-end events but in simple family and friend gatherings. It is especially recommended on cold seasons because it brings a delicious warmth to the tongue and stomach. Sidewalk eateries even serve the dish with nuoc oc – hot, boiled snail water with lemon grass and ginger – after the meal, totally free. A bowl of hot water infused with herbs is then brought to the table for everyone to wash their hands in to formally finish the meal.
Oc luoc is a simple snack, actually an appetizer for a series of snail courses. After the meal, other snail meals follow: bun oc (snail and noodle soup), chao oc (snail porridge), canh oc chuoi dau (snail soup with green banana, fried tofu and tia to or perrilla leaves). But in Ho Chi Minh City, oc luoc is served like a French cuisine, therefore more complicated and expensive. In the southern metropolis, snail dishes are more “cosmopolitan” and represent an “open-mindedness and eagerness to catch up with global trends among the Saigonese.”
Oc luoc served in Ho Chi Minh City come from the rich coast and are cooked in different, complex ways. Unlike the local Hanoi sidewalk style of cooking which boils the snails, Saigonese cooking use Eastern and Western ingredients. Coconut, chili, peanuts, spring onion, cheese, butter and garlic are mixed into the recipe. Some even bake the snails for a more sophisticated appeal of cooking style. One of the most well-known oc diners in Ho Chi Minh City is frequented by celebrities and serve the dish for about VND100,000 – VND200,000.
One of the most important facts about oc luoc is that it should be eaten in moderation. And more than a meal, oc luoc especially eaten in sidewalk eateries brings back childhood memories, making the dish always a memorable meal and experience in itself.