Summer in Lisbon has many perks, from beaches to concerts to festivals and… eating snails! Come May, locals begin looking around for signs claiming ‘há caracóis’ (there are snails) and after a week or so, it seems like every small restaurant, known as a tasca, has that sign or another, ‘temos caraóis’ (we have snails). Even the larger restaurants and some cafés (especially trendy, seaside cafés) will sell snails. Actually, the entire country seems to go snail crazy. Read on to find out why.
Snails in Portugal are really very good. Swimming in a savory broth, they are flavored with olive oil and/or butter, garlic, Portuguese chili pepper sauce known as piri-piri, and a lot of oregano. Some restaurants will add extra ingredients but this list covers the basics, and the little creatures take on the flavor from their sauce.
Eating caracóis is a social affair, either as an appetizer before a meal, as a late afternoon snack alongside a happy hour drink, or as an addictive bite while watching a sporting event and drinking beer. Really, the Portuguese, and especially Lisboetas, eat caracóis the way Americans eat buffalo chicken wings, except caracóis sometimes come with toast on the side for dipping.
They probably sound like escargot, but Portuguese snails are a bit different than those served in France. First, caracóis are rather tiny, and even caracoletas or larger caracóis are generally smaller than escargot. Second, these tasty little bites are drowned in broth as opposed to dry herbs or sauce. And don’t confuse them with periwinkles (which are also served in Portugal, but maybe not with so much gusto); caracóis are land creatures while periwinkles are marine intertidal.
The Portuguese love them so much that bags are even sold in the grocery store. Before being brave and picking snails off the street to try cooking them at home, keep in mind that they’re thoroughly rinsed and cleaned before hitting the pot.
Caracóis really are Lisbon’s top summertime treat, and even though locals from Porto may shy from sampling them (they have their own favorite eats), this dish is sold all over the country. Where are the best places to eat caracóis in Lisbon? They are literally everywhere but one venue that has a really good reputation is Caracóis de São Bento.