February 15, 2009


Ten points if you know to what I'm referring. Okay, I guess the photo gives it away. Hama Hama oysters, from Hood Canal here in Washington state. Aren't they gorgeous? Their shells, beautifully iridescent, the ruffled edges of their bodies, lying seductively in their liquor. God, I love oysters ... LOVE them. This makes me an ostreaphile. Since words are almost as wonderful as food to me, this new word makes me happy. 

"Because an oyster, like a lover, first captures you by bewitching your mind." -Rowan Jacobsen

After the oyster fest at my friend's house 2 weeks ago, I've experienced a reinvigorated oyster-tracking sense. And, with a trip to Maine in the offing, I'm sharpening my palate in preparation for some Glidden Points, Damariscotta and Pemaquids. Oysters are fun food - to say and to eat. Then, there's always the sensual, taboo angle of eating something alive. So full of briny life. As the author of A Geography of Oysters, Rowan Jacobsen, says...eating one is "like a little chi bomb. Perhaps that surge we feel is a temporary explosion of life force, and those desires we feel a quite natural wish to share the wealth." Maybe that explains the aphrodisiac angle. Although, do we really need a reason to feel amorous when eating oysters? I don't! I highly recommend Jacobsen's book. Inspired writing and descriptions even a non-oyster lover could appreciate. 

So, back to the Hama Hamas. "Hamma Hamma" means "stinky stinky" in the Skokomish Indian dialect. But this refers to the Hamma Hamma River, which reeks of decaying salmon each fall during spawning season, not to the oysters. This river pours from the Olympic National Forest into the Hood Canal. This is a pristine, unpolluted environment and the oysters love it. It's a rough patch to grow up in, and their shells show it. Tough, thick, covered in barnacles and the odd stone stuck on by seaweed, they speak of strength. And inside ... pure crunchy ocean in your mouth. As I chewed mine, I tasted cucumber with the peel on, citrus and salt, herby brine. I think those afraid to try a raw oyster think it will be slimy and fishy. Wrong. Silky seawater you can chew - that's how I describe oysters. And the myriad nuances of their flavors, based on what type and where they lived make each one unique. No one forgets their first raw oyster, just as no one forgets their first kiss or first lover. 

So, from oyster heaven, I'm signing off to go shuck and ... never mind. 


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