Saturday, February 22, 2003

The first time - with oysters!

Either you love oysters or either you detest them. No one can be indifferent to oysters. I must admit that they don’t look very appetizing when you look at them, like slimy little monsters. Once in the mouth they slide around and overwhelm you with the intense sensations in taste.
Read more about the first, orgasmic experience of the fine art of oysters.

One has to be daring to try an oyster the first time. I was quite old, around 20 years when I had my first one. It was a fantastic experience, nearly like when I got my first, really deep kiss. Like the oysters – an intense mouth experience.
I think I was thirteen or fourteen years old, hopelessly stuttering and shy, nearly disintegrating. A very cute girl, Cecilia Cassmer, much younger than me, obviously liked me, and gave me a fantastic kiss in the back yard of the apartment house, where she lived with her parents. I will never forget that first kiss. - Cecilia was, last time when I met her, a very attractive, much feared and tough criminal prosecutor.

Back to the oysters. - I was on summer vacations with my brothers in Istanbul, where my father was the Swedish Consul General. The summers were very hot, so my father always rented summerhouses near the coast on the Asian side. We had many friends, mostly came from rich, Turkish families. This time we were invited on a yacht by one of our friends. Cruising from the Prince Island of Buykada in the Marmara Sea, we came quite close to a rocky beach at the Asian side. We anchored up and the captain told us that we could dive down in the shallow water and find oysters and so we did. There were a lot of oysters on the seabed and they were easy to pick up. When I came up to the surface with my first oyster, I swam to the side of the yacht, where a crewmember was ready with a knife and opened it swiftly. He pressed a little juice from a lemon over it and handed the oyster back to me.
Still in the trepid water with one hand on the rail, the silhouette of the Prince Islands in the blue distance, our Turkish girlfriends in bikinis, dangling with their legs and carelessly chatting, the heat of the sun and the seawater dripping down my face, - the oyster was a sensation and tasting like a fresh, cool, kissing dream. Though I’ve been eating many different oysters all my life since then, no one has been that delicious, that the first one in the Marmara Sea. - Like my first kiss.

The other day I found a fantastic book on my way to France, at the bookstore, at the Arlanda Airport, in Stockholm. It is written by the American Chef Anthony Bourdain. He tells in a very witty, fast way, nearly like Tom Wolfe, how he became a cook and his life in restaurant kitchens. In one of the best passages he writes about the first time he ate an oyster. At the time he was much younger than me, thirteen years old, but he experienced the same sensation as I did.

Anthony Bourdains book (Kitchen Confidential, Bloomsbury Publishing. 2000) is very good and funny. I warmly recommend it. Read this little excerpt from the book:

“… Monsiuer Saint Jour (the oyster fisher), on hearing this – as if challenging his American passengers – inquired in his thick Girondais accent, if any of us would care to try an oyster.
My parents hesitated. I doubt they’d realized they might actually have to eat one of the raw, slimy things we were currently floating over. My little brother recoiled in horror.
But I, in the proudest moment of my young life, stood up smartly, grinning with defiance, and volunteered to be the first.
And in that unforgettably sweet moment of my personal history, that moment still more alive for me than so many of the other ‘firsts’ which followed – first pussy, first joint, first day in high school, first published book, or any other thing – I attained glory. Monsieur Saint-Jour beckoned me over to the gunwale, where he leaned over, reached down until his head nearly disappeared underwater, and emerged holding a single silt-encrusted oyster, huge and irregularly shaped, in his rough, claw like fist. With a snubby, rust covered oyster knife, he popped the thing open and handed it to me, everyone watching now, my little brother shrinking away from this glistening, vaguely sexual-looking object, still dripping and nearly alive.
I took it in my hand, tilted the shell back into my mouth as instructed by the by now beaming Monsieur Saint-Jour, and with one bite and a slurp, wolfed it down. It tasted seawater… of brine and flesh… and somehow… of the future.
I’d not only survived – I’d enjoyed.
This, I knew, was the magic I had until now only dimly and spitefully aware of. I was hooked. My parents’ shudders, my little brother’s expression of unrestrained revulsion and amazement only reinforced the sense that I had, somehow, become a man. I had had an adventure, tasted forbidden fruit, and everything that followed in my life – the food, the long and often stupid and self-destructive chase for the next thing, whether it was drugs or sex or some other new sensation – would all stem from this moment.
I’d learned something. Viscerally, instinctively, spiritually – even in some precursive way, sexually – and there was no turning back. The genie was out of the bottle. My life as a cook, and as a chef, had begun.
Food had power…”.

I wonder which kind of oyster Anthony Bourdain ate. – Personally, when in France, I like the middle-sized Claires best. But the best oysters in world are the Swedish round ones. They grow wild at the west coast of Sweden and since the water is cold, they grow very slow and get an extraordinary fine taste. The legends in the business are the Karlsson brothers in Grebbestad, north of Gothenburg.
Go there and try them out. For the true oyster lover it’s worth the trip. Don’t forget to drink the classical oyster drink, a mixture of Porter Beer and Champagne. – Good Luck!
Written by Erik Edelstam

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