Rowan Jacobsen considers Penn Cove oysters (left) to be the sexiest shellfish he’s ever eaten. They come from Washington state and perennially win the annual Most Beautiful Oyster Contest at Elliott’s Oyster House at Pier 56 in Seattle. “They … get bountiful and succulent, and they have this gleam to them as they sit in their shells,” he says. “They just look incredibly healthy and vivacious.”
Jacobsen is the author of A Geography of Oysters: The Connoisseur’s Guide to Oyster Eating in North America. He believes oysters taste like the places they come from, and he describes the places and tastes in simple but seductive language: salty, mineral, mossy, smoky or metallic. Terroir just isn’t a suitable term for this particularity of place, especially since the places are submerged beneath seawater. Jacobsen calls it the oyster’s “somewhereness.”
Eating raw oysters is “like kissing the sea… on the lips,” according to Jacobsen. “With oysters, there are no intermediaries. It’s a very direct experience. That food is exactly the same as it was when it was pulled out of the ocean,” he says. “It’s come to you on a plate somewhere and nobody’s done anything to manipulate that food. In fact, the food was alive until just moments before.”
You can listen to Jacobsen’s oyster reveries in an NPR interview with Melissa Block. Be warned: they recorded the interview at Hank’s Oyster Bar in Alexandria, Va., where they could slurp platters full of freshly shucked and iced shellfish without restraint. Don’t even think about listening if you are as land-locked or oyster-bereft as I am at the moment.
Rowan Jacobsen’s evocative language reminds me of Ms. Modigliani’s talent for describing what she had for dinner with such animation that you feel famished and titillated at the same time. It isn’t just food — it’s an edible drama. My thanks to métrogirl, my favorite Flickr photographer, for giving this culinary/gustatory/visual/&linguistic art form a name. Take a look at her sumptuous photos in edible dramas Paris to see what I mean.
From A Geography of Oysters
A raw oyster was not designed for our pleasure. Appreciating it is more like catching a glimpse of a fox in the woods: The experience lasts only a moment but leaves us in a fleeting state of grace. Oysters are not easy or obvious, but few foods so exquisitely balance sweet, salty, savory, and mineral. Few foods so reward our efforts.”