How Snail Noodles Became A Pandemic Hit In China

If the pandemic could be summed up in one sentence, we'd love for it to be this one: "A lot of people were looking for crazy, smelly, ridiculous things to eat." That's food blogger Mei Shanshan of Beijing talking to NPR and referring to what is indisputably the brightest bright side of the last two years: snail noodles.

Let's get something straight, first: if you are not a pickle person — that is to say, foods like kimchi or kefir disagree with your taste buds, or you generally frown upon fermented foods — this article may not whet your appetite. That's because snail noodles are pretty much exactly what they sound like, but better (or worse, depending on your taste buds): rice noodles in a broth made of river snails, accompanied by a variety of veggies that are salted, fermented, pickled, or otherwise made to taste very strong and smell even stronger. The dish is a regional specialty of Liuzhou, China, according to NPR, and it became a viral hit during the wild card year that was 2020. Was it the spicy chili that attracted soup slurpers? The umami of the river snails? Or simply the indefinable funk that results when those two already-bold flavors are combined with sour fermented bamboo shoots, turnips, tofu, and fried chickpeas (via CNN)? Tough to say, and perhaps even tougher to eat.

As far as viral food trends go, China snailed it

Snail noodles, or luosifen, come from the Guangxi province of China, a region known for its love of snails. "I eat snail noodles once a day, really!" a resident tells NPR. "The taste really suits Guangxi people. It's sour and spicy. Once you get used to the taste, you don't really notice the smell anymore," they add. And while NPR says the concept of rice noodles in snail broth was probably first introduced to the area in the 1980s, it was 2020 that, in true 2020 fashion, took a weird thing and made it ubiquitous. Apparently, a combination of the rising popularity of food bloggers and the rising boredom of people stuck at home for months at a time was all that snail noodles needed; now Liuzhou, where the dish was born, boasts a snail noodle festival, noodle-making sites, and a shell-shaped visitors' center, while the rest of the world watches, shell-shocked.

CNN says that this is one food trend that requires a strong stomach and weak olfactory glands. The smell of so many pickled ingredients and snail meat is a pungent package. With instant snail noodles offering speed and efficiency, and companies like KFC getting on board in the form of takeaway snail noodles at some Chinese locations, it is inspiring to see that 2020, the year that moved at a snail's pace, embraced and elevated the humble mollusk to global stardom.