Farming Snails: Bali

Five months ago, Putu Suastika deliberately inundated his rice field in a daring business decision. He turned the field into a freshwater snail farm to cash in on the growing demand for traditional freshwater snail delicacies at his food stall in western Denpasar. Suastika is a man of many talents. He is an experienced farmer, a junior high school teacher, an accomplished chef of Balinese traditional food and the owner of a successful food stall.

“My warung (food stall) needs up to 30 kilograms of freshwater snail meat per day. And the demand just keeps increasing. I couldn’t depend solely on my supplies from my snail suppliers. That’s why I decided to turn my rice field into a snail farm,” he said.

His food stall, Warung Pan Putu (literally meaning Putu’s Food Stall), is located on Jl. Ahmad Yani and has been open for 14 months. For Rp 10,000, customers get a portion of hot rice with snail satay, snail tum (steamed minced meat), snail ares (soup with shredded banana trunk) and a splash of three different aromatic sambal (spicy sauce) as Wasti Atmodjo explains.

Known locally as kakul, freshwater snails are exotic food items for most residents of urbanized Denpasar, but common stuff for those who live in the island’s more remote agricultural villages.

“It takes a special skill to cook kakul. The meat has an elastic and flavorless quality. We need to create a special mix of spices and to cook the meat for a specific period of time. It is a delicate process,” Suastika stressed.

Previously, he bought freshwater snails from suppliers, who collected them from rice farmers in Tabanan. For one kilogram of clean, shell-less snails, he paid Rp 15,000. A similar amount of snails with their shells still intact cost only Rp 3,000.

“I taught those farmers how to separate the snails from their shells,” he said.

The method includes boiling the snails for some time before picking the meats from the shells. The meat is then washed and rinsed repeatedly to remove the mucus before being refrigerated.

Treated that way, the meat could last for up to eight days.

By operating his own snail farm, Suastika hopes to provide his warung with a steady supply of high-quality freshwater snails.

“None of my suppliers have a dedicated freshwater snail farm, neither do the rice farmers in Tabanan. The snails are just the byproduct of their rice fields. That’s why we need a dedicated snail farm to ensure a stable supply,” he said.

Suastika turned his rice field into two muddy ponds. In these 8-by-8 meter and 10-by-10 meter ponds, Suastika farms a specific kind of freshwater snail; the rice field snail.

“There are two kinds of freshwater snails, the river ones and the rice field ones. The river snails’ shells are yellowish and their meat is less tasty than the rice field ones. Moreover, given the level of pollution in our rivers, many people consider the river snails as unhealthy,” he said.

Suastika feeds the freshwater snails with leaves of gamal plants.

“The adolescent snails spend most of their time in the mud in the middle of the ponds. The adult ones will move to the edges of the ponds to lay eggs,” he said.