The oyster, to me, is something to eat- it is most likely out of my price range but I have to have my fix, in those rare moments. After being abroad for a year and having this short visit to Boston and DC, one of the things I wanted to eat were raw oysters, slipping them into my mouth from their griny shells with a splash of lemon, tomatoe dressing, and a drop of tabasco sauce. It has the most fishy taste and the most slimy texture that easily slips through you so that you are only really enjoying it for a second. A short lived high.
I had this high first in Boston where me and my friend were going through the historic Haymarket and as we passed the aisles of raw vegitables, we stumbled on a 4 for $5 deal, on a stand, with buckets of oysters anf mussles sold by two very Italian residents from the North End.
While commonly consumed as a high-end product, found in the nicer bars and restaurants, oysters are perhaps known better as a figure of speech, folktale, and proverbs. The most common of which is the saying that the world is your oyster- whatever that means. Perhaps it has something to do with how the oyster’s essential price is not associated with its exclusivity in the menu, but its purpose of making the pearl after a long period of growth and waiting (though it must be noted that the kind of oysters consumed are not the same as those that make pearls).
Oysters have the tendency of being health-hazard-seeker’s target. Hepatitis A infection was first traced to the consumption of oysters in 1961, drawn from a series of cases in Alabama and Mississippi. Seventeen years later in 1978, a sudden outbreak of gastroneteritis in Australia was linked to oyster consumtion from the area. A decade afterwards, the hepititas A link with oysters were revisited from an outbreak in Florida. While oysters have been presented as a delicacy, served on a bed of ice and specialized thin forks on the side and rumored to be an aphrodisiac (for its large quantitiy of zinc), they have also been a subject of the popular investigations to link shellfish to, if we wantd to be direct, death.
My love for oysters this year stems from being far from it in the first place. They remind me of the summers and the sea salt scrub that I am inevitably gifted every Christmas except that last one. The inaccessability of it in South Asia led me to happily order a dozen at a bar near U street in D.C. at 11:30 pm last week, when the $1 oyster happy hour began. Me and my friend Bev came early and sat, looking at out cell phones every few minutes, wondering how strict the men behind the dark lit bar were about ordering. We sat in the tall oak booth with out large metal platter of two dozen oysters, consumed by both of us in ten minutes, garnished nicely with chopped horseradish.
I could use many words to describe this again, but no one really does it better than Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast where he wrote:
“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”