Sunday, May 22, 2011

Oyster meal memories

The raw seafood platter
that I had for lunch yesterday

Yesterday, I ate my first raw oysters since a dinner platter worth of them gave me food poisoning around a year ago. I am happy to report that nothing physically untoward has happened to me in the close to 28 hours since I caved in to a strong craving for that shellfish and went to Casa Fina for a luxuriously delicious meal of half a dozen raw oysters (two American Kumamoto, two Irish gigas (the tastiest of the lot!) and two Scottish rock oysters), two large Canadian whelks and a bowl of lobster bisque.

At the same time, however, I reckon that it will be a while before I partake of this fare again because, frankly, the price of oysters in Hong Kong is on the high side -- especially in relation to frankly better oyster meals I've had elsewhere in the world (as well as meals featuring other kind of good food to be had here in the Big Lychee).

Funnily enough, the top three raw oyster meals that I've had to date have been on the budget side. One of these was even completely free of charge -- courtesy of a friend of my father's who, on a visit to Penang from his native Australia, gifted us with a crate of raw oysters that was so large that my parents felt obliged to give away dozens to other friends because it was felt that my family couldn't possibly eat even one quarter, never mind all, of the gifted bivalves before they spoiled! (And for the record, I had at least two dozen of those critters on my own for dinner that night!!)

The other two raw oyster meals I recall most fondly took place over two consecutive evenings of a road trip I took with a friend one spring that took us from Philadelphia down to Beaufort, South Carolina (where The Big Chill was shot!) along a meandering route that saw us making sightseeing stops at places including Annapolis (the capital of Maryland and home to the United States Naval Academy), Wilmington, North Carolina (the very livable looking hometown of basketball legend Michael Jordan), New Bern, North Carolina (where Pepsi Cola was invented), and Charleston (the architecturally impressive South Carolina town that's home to The Citadel made infamous by Pat Conroy's The Lords of Discipline).

While in North Carolina's Outer Banks, we chanced upon a sea-side restaurant that was offering one dozen oysters on the half shell for US$6.99 (just a little more than the price of a single oyster at Casa Fina!). Granted that this was close to a decade and a half ago but I'm sure you'd believe that even then, the price -- for what I presume were local and consequently very fresh oysters -- represented quite the bargain!

Although I can no longer recall the name of the eatery in question, I definitely can remember how my friend and I proceeded to have two dozen oysters each - washed down with a couple of Bloody Marys each -- the first night. The second night, we moderated ourselves -- and ordered just" one dozen oysters each along with a serving of clams (also being offered at a bargain price) that we individually clothed with a decadently buttery dip before consuming. And, yes, we washed it all down with some more Bloody Marys -- having decided that they were the perfect drinks to go with the seafood we feasted on.

While quantity is not the same as quality, I have to admit that my memory of other oyster consumption featuring fewer oysters pale compared to those three oyster feasts. Thinking some more, it's also a factor that on most other occasions, including dinners at ritzy restaurants in London (including Scott's in Mayfair), oysters only have featured as appetizers rather than as the entire or even main course.

Then there are the times when some other things about the eatery I ate at stay more strongly in my memory than the taste of the oysters I had there. Specifically, when I dined at the Oyster House in Philadelphia, I couldn't help but be aware that I was the only non-Caucasian -- and almost the only non-male -- customer in there. (However, my love of oysters is that strong that this didn't entirely put me off going there more than once when I lived in the City of Brotherly Shove. And, to be fair, I never felt like I was treated badly as a customer at that establishment.)

A question to those of you who have read this far down this entry: do you eat raw oysters? And either way, what's behind your decision? I ask because I've discovered over the years that oysters are one of those things that many people won't countenance eating even while others like me consider them a great delicacy. (At the same time, I have to admit that, even if given a chance, I don't think I'd want to eat these bivalves every day. Rather, I think they're one of those foods best reserved for rare occasions -- this way, I do treasure the opportunities to eat them (all the more)... especially if they don't make me sick after doing so! ;b)


Glenn, kenixfan said...

Oddly, I don't like raw oysters even though I eat a lot of sushi and sashimi.

I think that my time spent outside of New Orleans as kid made me prefer shrimp to oysters, though I did eat a lot of fried oysters down there (even though raw oyster bars are prevalent down there).

Just before I read this post, my best friend and I hit a Japanese-themed buffet in Northern Virginia and I ate A LOT of sushi and he ate A LOT of raw oysters -- probably 10. All for only $19USD per person.

Not the highest quality, though, but acceptable.

It's funny that he eats raw oysters and has probably never considered eating sashimi.

Lew said...

I eat my seafood cooked, though oysters are not my favorite. Give me some steamed Maryland crabs!Your trip down the east coast took you through some fine seafood towns and a lot of early US history. I am glad you had good eating on your visit here!

YTSL said...

Hi Glenn --

Wonder what you and your friend would do if presented with oyster sushi... ;b

New Orleans is actually another place where I've had raw oysters. Can't remember if it was Acme or Felix's though I do remember that it was in the French Quarter! :b

Hi Lew --

As it so happens, I just had crab for dinner tonight -- chili crab, that is. Have to say that I prefer oysters and prawns among shellfish. Crabs and lobsters often are just so hard to eat! ;D

mister bijou said...

I got into raw oysters in Paris and then side trips to Brittany. When lived on Hong Kong island and hit the hotel buffets, I'd make a bee-line for the raw oysters, lots of them. Gorgeous. I love the taste of the sea and the texture of the oyster. If I had the chance, I wouldn't eat them every day, but I would eat them every week.

YTSL said...

Hi mister bijou --

Your little island in the South China Sea isn't *that* far away from Hong Kong Island... You could go that once a week, even if it's not to eat oysters, you know! ;b

Re your love of oysters: wow... I think I'd be happy to eat oysters once a month if the prices here were better... but once a week would be too much -- though I have to say that Sen-ryo has this wonderful oyster miso soup that I happily have once a week when it's in season! :)

sarah bailey knight said...

hi ytsl,

The oysters look tasty. You are lucky to live so close to fresh food from the sea.

Here in Vermont I'm reticent to eat anything raw from the ocean as I know people who have had bad experiences. But when I visit the sea coast it's a different story.

YTSL said...

Hi sbk --

I may live close to the sea but those oysters are from very far away (which helps explain their high cost)! And am not sure that most people here would be all that happy eating things caught from, say, Victoria Harbour -- that body of water may be beautiful to look at but... :S