“He was a bold man that first ate an oyster” Jonathan Swift
Oysters have been eaten by people since prehistoric times, but I’ve always been wary of them. I blame this on an episode of Mr Bean I saw when I was young, when he gets food poisoning from eating oysters and then has disturbing hallucinations. As of yet, I’ve never eaten raw oysters, but now that I’ve been converted to the cooked variety, I’d be willing to give them a try.
Anamizu is a small town in the rural peninsula of Ishikawa prefecture, but it comes alive every January for its annual oyster festival. I was surprised at how large the festival was. All around the edge of the festival area were stalls selling festival food. There were the usual suspects of ramen, yakisoba etc, though many of them involved oysters in some way.
At each end of the space were the stalls where you could buy your own oysters, ¥1000 for a plastic bag of 10 or 11. In the centre were two long covered areas with grills where you could cook your oysters or whatever else you had. One area was standing only and the other area had seats. Groups of families or friends gathered around the grills, while festival helpers went around making sure that the fires kept burning.
When we had bought our bag of oysters, we were each given a plastic plate, a glove, chopsticks and a knife. We found a free grill and surreptitiously tried to copy how the other people were grilling their oysters. The oysters are still alive when you buy them so their shells are tightly closed, but they open when they’re cooked. It can be a bit dangerous though, as some of the stubborn ones won’t open until finally they explode and you have to be careful not to get burned by oyster juice. We had forgotten to bring any condiments, but that didn’t matter because the oysters were flavoured with sea salt. Later we got some lemon and tabasco for our oysters which were delicious as well.
“O Oysters,” said the Carpenter,
“You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none–
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.
The Walrus and The Carpenter – Lewis Carroll
I had known that Guinness and oysters (or mussels) were a specialty of the West of Ireland, so I’ll have to try them the next time I’m over there. The Galway Oyster Festival is held every September as well, and draws large crowds of restaurateurs and oyster connoisseurs from all over the world.