The World is Your Oyster

Oysters have been an obsession for gourmands throughout the centuries. We take a look at how this simple shellfish has won hearts and taste buds the world over.

Issue: Apr 2009


Oysters on Ice.

The humble oyster has one of the longest and most interesting histories of any of our foodstuffs. Oysters have been an important food since before the Christian era. The Greeks enjoyed them with plenty of wine. The Romans were the first to export oysters, taking them home to Italy from England in barrels of salt water. They are the foodstuff of legend and myth. The Greek goddess of love and beauty is said to have risen from the sea in an oyster shell, and she is believed to hold special powers linked to love and loving. Oysters are one of the world's ultimate luxury foods, a symbol of pure indulgence.

The king of the molluscs has many properties that have elevated it to premier menu pleaser status. Low in calories and cholesterol, high in protein and rich in minerals and vitamins, parcelled in presentation-perfect packaging and ready to eat at the twist of a knife with no cooking required, it's no wonder that oysters are considered the perfect amuse-bouche.

Being filter feeders an oyster is very much affected by the waters in which it grows and can vary quite drastically or quite subtly in taste and texture according to the influence of its terroir. Salt levels in the water, algae and water flow can all affect the flavour of oyster meat, in a similar way that varying soils and climates of vineyards affect the grape and ultimately the taste of the wine produced from that grape. Oysters can taste mild and creamy, or salty and crisp. Some have a mineral taste, while others can have nuances of citrus, berry and even nut flavours.

Four Main Types of Oysters

Eastern, also called Atlantic oysters, native to the American eastern seaboard; Pacific, native to Asia; small, sweet Kumamotos from Japan; and European, also called Belon or flat oysters.

  • kumamoto
    The small Kumamoto oyster originates from Japan and is named after Kumamoto Bay off Kyushu, the southern most island of the archipelago. Today it can also be found on the western coast of North America. It has a firm texture and sweet mild flavour. The finish is buttery and mildly fruity, with just a hint of briny flavour. Its mild character makes this oyster popular with the novice raw oyster consumer.
  • pacific
    Pacific oysters, native to Asia but now grown all over the world, mostly taste sweet with mineral, melon and cucumber nuances and a soft, creamy texture. The Fanny Bay oyster is a good example, cultured on the beaches of Baynes Sound, near the small town of its namesake on the east coast of Vancouver Island, British Colombia. It has plump firm flesh with an aftertaste comparable to cucumber. Its shell is thick and easy to open.
  • eastern
    Eastern oysters grow from the coast of Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and include Wellfleets, Malpaques and Bluepoints. The very popular Bluepoint oyster is medium to large in size with a mild flavour light in salt content.
  • belon
    The Belon is nicknamed the "oyster lovers oyster", as it is considered perfect for eating on the half shell. Native to France it can also now be found in North American waters. The Belon has a distinctive flat shell, tender, sweet flesh and a metallic taste.

Oh Shucks

To eat oysters raw there is one thing that is certain - they must be alive just before consumption. Dead oysters are not poisonous - as is commonly thought - you must eat them live because when they die they secrete enzymes that change the flavour of the meat. A simple indication that the oyster is alive is a shell that is tightly shut; you should not be able to open it with your fingers, you should need to use a shucking knife to pry it open. If it is open, it should close if you tap it. An oyster that is dead in a closed shell is easy to distinguish also by tapping on its shell. If it makes a "clacking" sound then the oyster is dead - hence dead oysters are being referred to as "clackers".

Oyster shooter
Oysters are popularly enjoyed raw and some gourmands would baulk at diners who add any dressing to an oyster. Commonly stated as "on the half shell'' raw oysters are usually served shucked on a bed of shaved ice with a few lemon wedges. If you like to dress your oyster, there are numerous way to add some extra flavour. Perhaps, the most common dressing is cocktail sauce - tomato sauce with a kick of horseradish.

Most restaurants add their own "secret ingredient" to differentiate their dressing. Other dressings include rice wine and chopped shallots. For the ultimate in indulgence the oyster can be topped with caviar. Some pioneering chefs have paired the oyster with wasabi dressing for the ultimate kick or added sweetness with fruit salsa (mango and chilli salsa work surprisingly well). The lively and entertaining Hooters Singapore serves Hooters Shooters - an oyster with a pinch of horseradish in a shooter glass half filled with Singaporean Tiger beer, cocktail sauce and Tabasco.

If you are not a fan of raw oysters there are many ways to enjoy them cooked. Batter-fried oysters offer a whole new experience as you bite through the crisp batter into the creamy soft filling. Grill oysters, add a topping of herbs and seasoned breadcrumbs and you have Oysters Rockefeller, or steam oysters with minced chilli and garlic as served by Quayside Seafood restaurant at Clarke Quay.

Oysters can be added to stews and soups and make a wonderful chowder. Seafood Harvest restaurant at Bugis Junction offers plenty of options including Oysters Kilpatrick - oysters with chopped bacon and Worcestershire sauce, Oysters Mornay - oysters topped with Mornay sauce and cheese then baked and Oysters Tempura served with a wasabi dressing. Hooters Singapore also offer cooked oysters that are lightly oil blanched and topped with garlic butter sauce or boiled with herbs and spices and then dipped in suspended butter and cocktail sauce before devouring.

So why not throw caution to the wind and experiment to find your favourite oyster? With so many choices of oysters and styles of eating them, you are bound to find at least one way to enjoy this culinary jewel of the sea.


HOOTERS Singapore
3D River Valley Road, Clarke Quay, #01-03
Reservations: +65 6332 1090
Opening hours: 11:00am to midnight (weekdays). 11:00am to 2:00am (weekends).

Hooters opened in Singapore in 1996 and is the first international Hooters outlet and first Hooters in Asia. You can choose to dine alfresco by the Singapore River or head indoors to enjoy the unique party-style atmosphere. The menu is unashamedly American - wings, ribs, steaks and shrimp served in American sized portions. You can take pleasure in oysters served in a variety of ways including "nude", "stewed" or "garlic butter dipped". From June to November you can enjoy crisp, clear New Zealand oysters and from November to May creamy and juicy Canadian Oysters.


Elegant dining at the Quayside Seafood restaurant.
3A River Valley Road, Clarke Quay, #01-03
Reservations: +65 9633 9146
Opening hours: Dinner: 6:00pm to Midnight (Sunday - Thursday). 6:00pm to 1am (Friday, Saturday & Public Holidays).

Quayside Seafood on the riverfront of Clarke Quay offers alfresco dining on "Lilypad" flooring where you can literally dip your hands into the water. Oysters here are offered three ways; raw, steamed with minced garlic and chilli and deep-fried. Of course, there is a plethora of other seafood on the menu, including all time favourites chilli and black pepper crabs, fragrant salt & pepper calamari and wok-fried jumbo prawns with chef's special sauce. Entertainment comes in the form of an "outdoor theatre" kitchen.


Seafood Harvest
200 Victoria Street, Bugis Junction, #02-49
Reservations: +65 6883 1149
Opening hours: 11:00am to 10:30pm (Monday to Sunday).

Serving the freshest seafood, prepared Western style - Seafood Harvest Restaurant opened in May 2005 at Bugis Junction. The restaurant has garnered a reputation for its lobster fresh from the tank, succulent King crabs and jet-fresh oysters. Oysters are served on the half shell with shallot vinaigrette, Kipatrick, Mornay and Tempura style. This is no-nonsense, simple, fresh and delish seafood at its best.

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