Not a Meat of Choice: Many Rural Bengalis Can Only Afford Snails
Popularly known as ‘poor man’s meat’, Googli is Bengali for snails, eaten extensively by people in rural Bengal.
The word ‘Googli’ may instantly bring to mind a cricket field, but a few might be aware that the same word is closely related with a delicious, albeit lesser-known dish in West Bengal.
If the googly in cricket is meant to bowl the batsman out, the googli in Bengal will surely bowl you out with its mouth-watering taste.
Popularly known as the ‘poor man’s meat’, Googli is actually the Bengali term for snails that are eaten extensively by people in rural Bengal. It is, however, widely considered unpalatable for communities in urban localities.
What do Googli look like? They are primarily round or oval-shaped creatures – and are found commonly in the lakes and ponds of Bengal, as also the rest of the country.
The ‘Catching’ of the Googli
Asim Mondal, who lives in Gangnapur village of Nadia district, West Bengal, says that the villagers catch their Googli themselves, directly from the pond:
We start by first applying oil to our bodies so that we can safeguard against the leeches that live in the muddy waters. We then clear the bushes where the Googli are normally found; it doesn’t take too long to haul in the catch if they are easily available – especially during the rainy season. We collect the catch in a bucket.
He is lucky to catch at least 20-25 of them which he says is enough for at least one single meal of the day.
We have to always catch more than we need, as the meat obtained is of very less quantity. A portion of the meat also gets lost if it is not extracted properly from the shell. We always look to catch in surplus so that we have enough to cover our meal.
Asim says that he often sells the Googli to the traders but sometimes also gifts them to villagers to prepare a meal:
We normally sell them to the traders who give us Rs 50-60 per kg. But sometimes, we also gift them to villagers who are too poor to purchase them from the local market.
This time, I watch him gift the catch to a Manu Sardar, a 55-year-old village woman. She immediately sets around to whipping up a delicious meal with the bounty of clams.
How the Googli Makes a Meal
Manu starts by hammering the Googli to squeeze out the raw meat inside; it takes her about 30 minutes to get a handful of meat from the catch. The next step is to wash the meat in clean water before cooking it. Manu – who, I feel, looks slightly older than she is – tells me that the washing is necessary to scrub off all impurities, since the Googli reside largely in muddy waters.
Soon after, she marinates the meat with turmeric and a pinch of salt, coupled with onions and potatoes, and throws the lot into a thick and deep kadhai (cooking pot), after having poured in a bit of cooking oil. I watch her place the kadhai on an earthen oven.
After cooking the Googli for 20 minutes, she removes the kadhai from the oven and announces happily that the ‘kosha Googli’ (Googli curry) is ready for consumption. She is joined by a little boy in her neighbourhood, and the duo take turns in downing the small amount of curry with a bit of rice.
Why is the Googli Eaten?
Samir Kirtania, another Gangnapur villager I meet, elaborates on why the Googli are called the poor man’s meat.
First of all, they are easily available in all our local ponds. Also, a kilo of Googli costs around Rs 70-80 in the market – which is far less than what the same amount of chicken or mutton or other non-vegetarian items are priced at. We cannot afford those items every day. Our ancestors consumed Googli daily too, we’ve been told, and our family elders have always said that this meat is good for improving eyesight.
The ophthalmologists in the city, however, refuse to corroborate their tale.
There is no conclusive evidence or any research to prove that Googli truly help in maintaining healthy eyesight. I consider it a myth that has been passed down from one generation to another. We do not even know whether their consumption could be dangerous to health since they’re found in muddy waters which might be infested with poisonous creatures.Dr KS Das, Kolkata-based ophthalmologist
Scientific research or not, Googli has undoubtedly been the poor man’s meat for several generations. Clearly, the food habit is going nowhere.
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