Reading Terminal Market’s annual OysterFest has become a destination event for oyster aficionados around the Mid-Atlantic.
The festival might seem less obviously appealing to someone who has never eaten a raw oyster, either because they don't patronize restaurants that serve them, don't find the idea of eating raw oysters immediately appealing or are unsure and embarrassed about how to eat them.
But none of those things need be barriers to your attending OysterFest 2017 on October 6. Read on to find answers to these issues and nine other good reasons why you should attend.
- Oysters are delicious. “The freshness, the saltiness – eating an oyster is like being transported to the sea,” says oyster grower and eater Lisa Calvo of Sweet Amalia in Cape May, N.J., one of 12 oyster brands to be featured at OysterFest. Brent Cossrow, vice-chairman of Reading Terminal Market's Board of Directors and partner at Fisher & Phillips LLP (Lead Sponsor of OysterFest) loves oysters' flavor, texture and direct connection to nature. "Even as a child I was captivated by the idea that you would open the shell and there would be the food. It's that simple and wonderful."
- Oysters are nutritious, containing lots of protein, iron, omega-3s, antioxidants and vitamins and minerals -- especially zinc -- packed in a mere 9 or 10 calories.
- Eating raw oysters is easy for oyster virgins who follow the following simple tips from the experts: Start with small milder-flavored oysters like ones from Cape May then work your way up to the bigger, chewier ones, raised in or near the ocean, with their stronger flavors.
"Texture is the thing" in a lot of food aversions, according to Jane Kauer, a Philadelphia-based anthropologist (and Market shopper) who studied picky eaters at the University of Pennsylvania. And some people will see raw oysters as slippery and slimy.
One technique to combat that advocated by neuroscientist Darya Rose of the Summer Tomato blog is to think of foods that have a similar texture that you do like: say, the wonderful grilled onions that are put on steak sandwiches at Carmen's and Spataro's and By George's, or over-easy eggs served at the Down Home Diner or the Dutch Eating Place.
Still can't imagine yourself eating raw oysters? Picture another person eating them from several different "camera" angles is a technique drawing on feelings of empathy and identification that has worked at overcoming food aversions for some hypnotherapy patients. The circumstances in which people first encounter a food can also affect whether they respond to a foodstuff positively or negatively and Reading Terminal's OysterFest is a fun time with beer.
The experts are split on the use of toppings like cocktail sauce, horseradish, lemon and mignonette (a sauce of shallots, vinegar and pepper) that will be available at OysterFest. David Braunstein of Pearl's Oyster Bar, the oyster maestro of OysterFest, thinks it can be as useful as cream and sugar is for coffee-drinking beginners in getting people acclimated to new flavors. But Calvo believes (and Cossrow agrees) that you should "just go for it" more or less plain. As chef/TV food show host Anthony Bourdain says: "Your body is not a temple, it's an amusement park. Enjoy the ride."
As for oyster etiquette: Use the supplied cocktail fork to separate the meat from the shell, but simply tilt the shell into your mouth to eat, so as not to miss the flavorful liquid (so good that it's called liquor). Braunstein recommends chewing even the smallest oyster once or twice before swallowing, also to extract maximum flavor.
- Oyster-eating is not dangerous for normal, healthy people. That old rule about only eating oysters in months with an R in them is related to summer algae blooms and attendant toxins and dates back to when oysters were mainly harvested in the wild. Today most oysters are farmed in an industry that's heavily regulated for food safety. So eating oysters in R months is now mainly important because oysters fattening up for the winter are plumper and tastier. And OysterFest is being held in an R month!
- Eating raw oysters could make you seem brave and exciting, at least to people who haven't read above point numbers 3 and 4.
- Oyster-eating is sustainable eating at its finest. Oysters actually clean the water as they filter it for foodstuff. Their beds also create a habitat for many other sea creatures.
- Oyster-eating could help your sex life. Though the science to support the widely held belief that oysters are an aphrodisiac is scant, oysters do contain a lot of zinc (see number 2), a mineral linked to testosterone production.
- Oyster-eating is trendy, almost as much as craft beer, the compatible consumable featured at OysterFest. And who doesn't like beer? Oysters’ current popularity also means that …
- There’s no better time or place to enjoy oysters. Cossrow points out that oysters are an indigenous Delaware Valley food now in the midst of an incredible resurgence and revival by artisan growers, many of whom will be at represented at OysterFest.
- OysterFest benefits a great cause. Proceeds fund after-school cooking and nutrition programs for kids from the Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia and the Strawberry Mansion Learning Center in North Philadelphia.
- OysterFest is a great value, considering that the average price of a half-dozen fresh-shucked oysters is $16 or $17 and of a craft beer, $5 to $7, and that OysterFest is all you can eat or drink.
- OysterFest is an education. Although West Coast oysters tend to be sweeter and creamier; and East Coast ones, brinier; there are subtle variations in flavor depending on the aquatic environment where they lived and when they were harvested. And so, Calvo says, an event like OysterFest is "a wonderful way to taste a wide spectrum of oysters and figure out what you like” in the company of oyster lovers and grower reps equipped to answer your questions.
OysterFest featuring 12 oysters and 12 craft beers for $50, Fri., Oct. 6, 7-9 p.m. Tickets are now on sale at https://readingterminalmarket.ticketleap.com/oysterfest2017/
Carolyn Wyman is the Market's news correspondent and operator of the Reading Terminal's bi-weekly Taste of Philadelphia Food Tour (www.tasteofphillyfoodtour.com).