Melo Melo Salad (Gỏi Ốc Giác)
Melo melo is a species of sea snail in the family Volutidae. The snail has many different local names in Việt Nam. In the Central region, they are also known as dandruff snails, shell snails (using snail shells as a tool to scoop water), in the West of Văn Lang and Gò Công areas, as far as Hà Tiên and Tiền Giang, people call them price snails. Some places call snails according to their outer shell color, yellow snails, and lamp snails (because they are often used to decorate bedroom lights) but the common Việtnamese name is “Ốc giác.”
With the exploitation of snails for meat and the ability to generate gems, this is an economically valuable sea snail species. Melo melo is a very large sea snail, it can weigh up to 2 kg. It usually dwells in muddy bottoms at a maximum depth of nearly 20 m and can live up to 30 years. The snail prefers to reside in underwater rocky places, submerged cliffs, and caverns near the islands’ foot.
After being caught, they can live weeks in salt water tanks with a good recirculating systems. A freshly caught snail’s body continues to produce mucus, a sticky substance that improves the freshness and juiciness of the flesh, therefore it’s preferable to eat it right after it’s been caught. During the rainy season, the snail is at its best.
Their bodies are large and meaty. The flesh of the snail is divided into two parts, the pulp and intestines are both edible. One part of the snail is white in color, hard and crispy like a chicken gizzard and lumpy, the inside of the snail is light brown, soft and fatty, called brick or liver.
The snail flesh can be removed from the shell in two ways. The first is to boil or steam it whole in plenty of lemongrass and then extract it with a sharp shop stick. Second, while the snail is still alive, remove the flesh and boil or steam it. After boiling or steaming, the flesh turns a golden colour and is thinly sliced before being used in various preparations.
Divers handpicked the Melo melo from the seabed, but the task is tough due to low water visibility and vast depth; also, the snail’s motionlessness and excellent camouflage shell make it difficult to distinguish between a snail and a rock, thus finding the snail requires some luck. Melo melo, unlike scallops and clams, tends to live alone in remote locations, making hunting tough and time-consuming.
Melo melo is commonly used in salads (Gỏi) served with sesame rice crackers (Bánh đa) or shrimp crackers (Bánh phồng tôm), as well as grilling, stir-frying, and steaming. Mango Melo melo salad (Gỏi xoài ốc giác), stir-fried Melo melo (Ốc giác xào), grilled Melo melo with salt and pepper (Ốc giác nướng muối ớt), and steamed Melo melo with ginger (Ốc giác hấp gừng) are some of the most popular dishes.
Phan Thiết and Phú Quốc are two of the best areas in Việt Nam to try this delicacy.