Flash those pearl-y whites as you shell out a few dollars if you’re planning on enjoying today’s food holiday. August 5 is National Oyster Day!
And enjoy you should. Oysters are tasty delicacies meant to be savored. And, they have alleged aphrodisiac properties. That’s what is called a win/win, people!
Oysters are a group of bivalve mollusks that live in saltwater. They have been an important food source for as long as man has roamed the earth; there is plentiful evidence of ancient mounds of oyster shells in many prehistoric sites throughout the world. Oyster farming and cultivation dates back to the Roman Empire. Casanova, infamous ladies’ man of the 18th century, allegedly made a habit of consuming 50 oysters every morning for breakfast, helping to fuel the myth that oysters are aphrodisiacs, a notion that began when Aphrodite – the Greek goddess of love – rose from the sea on an oyster shell. (The fact that she purportedly ordered “Somebody get me a freakin’ towel, I’m dripping wet here!” has been lost to history, no doubt in an attempt to maintain the illusion of sexiness in the story). It turns out there’s some truth to the theory, actually; oysters are rich in amino acids that trigger increased levels of sex hormones. Oysters, like caviar, were once so plentiful in New York Harbor they were a cheap food for the working class, but overfishing dramatically dropped their population levels to the point that they are now considered a delicacy. Stories like this make me wonder whether hot dogs will be viewed as a rare delicacy that commands outrageous prices in another hundred years or so.
There are many different ways to enjoy oysters: they can be eaten raw, smoked, baked, fried, boiled, steamed, stewed, pickled, etc. Probably the best way to eat them is the simplest: on the half shell, raw (they are actually alive when you eat them – not that this should gross you out or anything), with a squeeze of lemon juice, a spoonful of mignonette, a dash of hot sauce, and perhaps a bit of horseradish, to suit your tastes. Oysters take on the flavor of the water from where they are harvested, and can taste sweet, salty, buttery, or metallic. East Coast oysters tend to be thin and mild-tasting, while West Coast oysters are plumper and more flavorful, often described as creamy and sweet.
Up until a few months ago, Tara and I both thought we hated oysters. Then one day, on a whim, we ordered a couple as an appetizer while at a trendy bar in Portland, and were blown away. We have since had them several times, and now count them as a delicious delicacy, savoring their briny flavor whenever possible. So we were quite happy when this holiday rolled around! The fact that it’s also National Waffle Day barely registered. There was only one food item we were interested in celebrating, and that was the oyster, baby.
What better place to celebrate than Dan and Louis Oyster Bar, Portland’s oldest family-owned restaurant? This landmark spot dates back to 1907, and is located above the city’s famed Shanghai Tunnels. There’s even a glass pane in the floor where you can look down and see the tunnel below your feet. Not only does Dan and Louis ooze history, they know how to do oysters! As you’d expect. We shared a half-dozen Pacific oysters, including our favorite, Pickering oysters from Puget Sound. Sweet, mellow, and delicious. Today’s food holiday was pretty awesome!
- Oregon’s only native oyster, the Olympia, makes a comeback after near extinction (oregonlive.com)
- The Only 7 Things You Need To Know About Oysters (buzzfeed.com)
Oysters and waffle day? You missed your chance! One of the lasting images from my youth is watching my dad smash fresh-shucked Hood Canal oysters on his waffles and eat them for breakfast.