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Eating Snails in France
Eating snails in France is a culinary pleasure. It is estimated that 16,000 tons of snails are consumed in France each year (that makes 6.5 snails per person per year), and 90-95% of snails are imported.
Escargots in France are particularly appreciated for Christmas when about two-thirds of French snails are consumed. Snails are mainly consumed in Alsace and Franche-Comté and to a lesser extent in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.
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How Escargots in France have Made their Way through History
Snails are one of the world’s oldest species; they were already present at the dinosaurs’ time!
Man has used snails for food since prehistoric times and some archeological remains of that time in Spain and France demonstrate that escargots in France were bred and carefully chosen (only adult snails). We also know that prehistoric men ate cooked snails, not raw.
During Roman times in Paris and France, snails were eaten fried or grilled after soaking them in milk. It was a popular dish, served as a dessert or sweets.
Later, the Christian Church regarded these animals as impure because they crawled, and snails in France quickly became unpopular, and they were wiped off the culinary map.
It was not until the Romans’ ousting that the French snails gradually returned to the diet but as the poor’s meat. The sailors also appreciated this food, and they took snails with them to always have fresh meat on board.
The Birth of Burgundy Snails (Escargots Bourgignons)
The story goes that in 1814 Talleyrand – Napoleon’s steward – wanted to have lunch with Tsar Alexander I at a Burgundian restaurateur: Antonin Carême. The two men arrived at the restaurant very late, so the cook had nothing more to serve them.
The man then reportedly saw snails in his garden and decided to cook them for the two guests. The cook used garlic to hide the animal’s taste, very green parsley to make the dish presentation more appetizing, and butter to make the swallowing easier. The Tsar loved the recipe and voilà, that’s how one of Burgundy’s most popular dishes was born!
What does Escargot Taste Like?
This is a tough question! Some people say escargots have a neutral taste. Others say snails taste like veal. Or mushrooms. But everybody agrees that escargots are chewy and go down easily.
Mainly the escargot taste depends on the escargot variety and the preparation. Still, the best way to know the escargot taste is to try it yourself, perhaps with a couple of slices of a Parisian baguette to scoop up the sauce and paired with a glass of good French wine.
French snails are high in protein and low in fat, and it is a light meal (unless you start eating too much baguette with the sauce).
Ordering Snails in French Restaurants
Escargots in France are usually served as a starter. When you order snails in French restaurants, you should expect a plate of six-nine units, so it is a light starter that gives plenty of room for the main course and dessert.
You can sometimes find it at apéro-dinatoires, a kind of casual drinks with food very popular in Paris.
How to Eat Escargots in France
In France, snails are usually served with the shells on, so you will need a special cutlery for eating snails in France.
First, there are the snail tongs to hold the shells while you get the meat out. Then, it would be best if you had the special tiny fork to extract the meat out.
To avoid scenes like Julia Roberts eating snails in the film ‘Pretty Woman,’ perhaps it is a good idea to practice a bit at home or in casual places before ordering escargots in a fancy restaurant. Some brasseries, Parisian bistros, and cabaret shows with dinner (picture above) also propose escargots in their menus.
Where to Eat Snails in Paris
What makes a good snail is the savoir-faire (preparation and cooking expertise) and quality products. Here is the list of good restaurants that serve escargots in Paris. In all these places, you can eat good traditional cuisine other than snails.
AU DOUX RAISIN: 29 rue Descartes, Paris 5
No fancy escargot recipes here, only fresh produce, butter, garlic, parsley, and a lot of know-how. The quality is there, and you will love it.
L’ESCARGOT MONTORGUEIL: 38 rue Montorgueil, Paris 1
Located in the Halles neighborhood, this restaurant with Second Empire decor was founded in 1832. It is an institution that has seen popular names like Marcel Proust, Sacha Guitry, or Salvador Dali.
You can choose traditional escargot recipes, with truffle butter, duck foie gras, 3 flavors (garlic, curry, Roquefort), or even stamped with edible 24-carat gold.
BENOIT: 20 rue Saint Martin, Paris 4
This Parisian bistro opened in 1912, and soon it experienced an incredible success both for the quality of its food and the atmosphere.
The bistro was bought in 2005 by Alain Ducasse Entreprise, who managed to preserve the atmosphere while adding a touch of modernity. Benoit is today the only Parisian bistro that can proudly display a Michelin star.
The snails are prepared in the traditional way (garlic butter and herbs). This is a simple but delicious escargot recipe.
How to Cook Escargots at Home
If you are tempted to cook escargots at home or in your apartment in Paris, don’t just go to the backyard and pick and cook the first snails you find! It takes more than that, and there’s a profession for this (snail farmers or héliciculteur), so your best bet is to go to the market or specialized shops.
The snails sold in France are not all ‘Burgundy’ snails (Helix pomatia); there is also the classic snail (Helix lucorum), the small gray snail (Helix aspera).
If you are wondering where to buy escargots in Paris, the best place is La Maison de L’Escargot (79 rue Fondary, Paris 15). La Maison de l’Escargot was founded in 1894 and they have a savoir-faire – from collecting wild snails to prepare them and the choice of the best products – that satisfies the most refined requirements. La Maison de l’Escargot proposes cooked snails or canned Burgundy snails to prepare with your favorite escargot recipe.
How to cook escargots? There are many escargot recipes, being the Escargots à la Bourgignonne the most popular. Escargots are also good with cèpes (boletus mushrooms), used as a filling in fried doughs or raviolis, or Escargots with Garlic-Parsley Butter.