By Bobby Lax: Tofino, British Columbia
They are not for everyone. Oysters are slimy, awkwardly chewy, salty, creamy during spawning and if eaten raw, pretty much still alive.
If you have ever had a bad one you probably would have immediately spit it out hoping to never experience such a blitzkrieg on your senses again.
If oysters are for you though, their consumption alone is cause for celebration. Your mouth will rejoice in their delicacy and brininess.
This is followed by the body buzz only an oyster so naturally provides. Life is richer when they are near.
My love of oysters began shortly after reading “kitchen confidential” by Anthony Bourdain. In it he describes a transcendental experience with his first oyster while in the Gironde, which is situated on the southwest coast of France.
At the time I was being introduced into the culinary world and all its possibilities beyond my daily peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I was intrigued by someone being so deeply moved by food. I had to know.
Within a week of reading the book I picked up an oyster and found out exactly what he was talking about. I carefully shucked my small oyster so as to not get any unwanted shell, separated its muscle and slurped it back like I was taking a shot of tequila. It was overwhelming.
At first I was rendered gleefully stupid. Then this rush of life moved through me. Whether it is because of the abundant zinc that can be found in oysters or the fact that before being shucked the oyster is still alive, they have a way of injecting exhilaration into a human being. I realized then how easily I could have gone through my entire life without having such a profound food experience. This scared me.
I have since spent much time on the west coast of Canada discovering many beautiful ingredients from the sea. Razor clams, Sea Cucumbers, Gooseneck barnacles, and Sea Urchins have all found their way into my mouth in the hopes that they would ignite me the way an oyster does.
Despite their myriad textures, freshness and resounding sea flavour (something I can never get enough of as a surfer) the oyster still reigns as my sweetheart of the ocean.
It is not as if I get home from work and want to eat an oyster. They are ‘mood food’. I crave them most when eating and drinking with friends.
I like the dynamic they bring. There is always a little extra excitement and intrigue when they are in the room.
Many of my best food gatherings have begun with oysters, usually accompanied by a freshly sabered bottle of bubbles. When there is someone in the group who has not tried them before I take notice.
I want to relive my first oyster over and over again. I know this to be a futile desire so I try to live vicariously through others.
As a result I prey on the oyster virgins at a party. With my netted bag in tow, as a reminder of the sea, I attempt to gain their trust. Sometimes I resort to peer pressure so as to encourage these people into giving this misunderstood food a chance. I offer them a speech about how people either love them or hate them. I tell them the oysters I have are small and really fresh. Both of these factors make an oyster considerably more palatable to a novice slurper.
Then I will get someone else in the room to try one that I know loves them. Once they hear a friend’s ringing endorsement, the idea of eating one now seems somewhat reasonable. The squeamishness subsides and before they know it they have swallowed one after a chew or two. It is on that faithful chew that I can see in their eyes whether they will either immediately ask for another or never eat one again.
For better or worse the texture of an oyster is like nothing else. It seems foreign in the mouth, so I always understand if someone cannot get past the chew.
Once I get a person to try one I feel like my duty to provide the opportunity that Anthony Bourdain gave me is fulfilled. I let them decide if they are to keep going. Luckily for me they usually do.