Oysters are the most magical bivalve of them all. A true oyster devotee has been in a torrid love affair since his very first half shell. The experience of eating a freshly shucked oyster is not unlike a deeply erotic encounter; the naked organism sits in front of you bathing sensually in its own juices, just begging to be taken. Once you tip that temptress from her pearly shell into your mouth, the oyster-gasm sets in. Your nerve endings spark as though they're bathing in a pool of Champagne as you reach a pure, briny state of Nirvana.
A raw oyster is an expression of the ocean in its purest form, and while each is sacred in its own right, not all bivalve feasts are created equal.
My most memorable feast to date occurred not in my home state of Maine but China, on a humid Shanghai night. It was Thanksgiving and our university had generously treated us exchange students to a holiday dinner in the form of an upscale hotel's all-you-can-eat buffet. Coincidentally, my friend's parents visiting from Massachusetts were staying at that same hotel and invited us up to the "Executive Lounge" before our school-sponsored feast.
After four MSG-fueled months abroad, the beautiful bounty before us, juxtaposed against the futuristic Shanghai cityscape, seemed nothing short of alien. Bagels topped with lox and plump capers neighbored an irresistible spread of creamy cheeses that blended into a symphony of cured meats and luscious pâtés. A few Johnny Walkers and several thousand calories later, I rolled out of the elevator and through the lobby, but not toward the exit. Instead, I was right on-time for our Thanksgiving feast.
I looked around at the spread in front of us -- and a true spread it was. Cornucopias overflowed with autumnal produce not native to the continent underfoot but ripe with the golden and red hues I associated with my New England upbringing. Roasted turkeys perched proudly upon ornate stands that swam in lakes of piping hot stuffing, steaming fragrances nothing short of sublime. While my fellow classmates dove in hungrily to their holiday feast, I ambled around bleary-eyed and uninspired. Already filled to the brim with food and spirit, my bed was starting to seem more appealing than the heaps of traditional fare that surrounded me. As I lazily completed my lap around the room, I had all but mentally conceded to my lethargic fate when suddenly my eyes leapt from my skull and my mouth began to salivate at the majestic sight before me; bivalves, beautiful bivalves.
The mountain of shells formed a fantastical landscape and I stared transfixed, blindsided by the fact that an unlimited oyster bar was to be a part of this holiday celebration. The shucker looked up at me half-laughing.
"You like oyster?"
I do like oyster. I like oyster a lot. And with that, my evening took a turn for the delicious.
Deep in a spiritual state, I vaguely noted that only two other people approached the raw bar that evening, hesitantly asking for one, maybe two oysters, just to try. I on the other hand was slurping them down as fast as my new best friend could shuck, bathing in the sensual glory of each briny moment. Every time I returned to the table with a new oyster tower in hand, my onlookers laughed and cheered; amused, intrigued and ultimately bewildered by my relationship with these opulent creatures. After personally putting away thirty beauties, I proclaimed that I should have only one more, a feather in my cap, because 31 oysters in a row was just so damn sexy.
Those 31 oysters coming back up one hour later was not so sexy. My belief in Bivalvism, however, is still afloat today and I remind myself daily that a close encounter with Poseidon is only a shell's pry away.