11 International Oysters to Travel For in 2011

Oysters in Hong Kong

If you want to truly understand the essence of a place, then go in search for its oysters. These ancient creatures will reveal a lot about the world–from the subtle flecks of color in the shells to the way that they are devoured–the oyster evokes the hidden truth behind the land, water, and people. In the most eloquent words of a fellow ostreaphile at Travel + Leisure:

Rare is the culture that doesn’t love oysters. They are everywhere. But they’re also decidedly Somewhere: within its singular shell, each oyster carries its provenance like a fingerprint. Knocking one back is like mainlining the cove it came from. — Peter Jon Lindberg

During the last two months of 2010, I had the incredible opportunity to travel around the world for business. When I wasn’t working or sleeping, I was hunting for oysters. I succeeded in finding them in 10 of the 14 countries that I visited. In some places, oysters were easy to find. In others, it was nearly impossible. I tried over 30 new kinds of oysters and noted my very favorites. Keep in mind that most, if not all of these oysters are NOT sold in the U.S. market. The federal government currently has tight restrictions on oyster imports from outside of North America, which makes them a serious destination food. So here is my top 11 for 2011. If you love to travel, explore, eat, and savor, keep this list close at hand. Make the world your oyster too!

1. Tasmania from Australia: Raised and harvested from the land down under, these plump gigas oysters are deliciously creamy and adventurous in texture. The seaweed-flavored saltiness evokes an image of the majestic ocean with frothy white surf, and then it transitions into a gentle sweetness that leaves a clean, crisp aftertaste. They’re a substantial size, so if you’re a petite oyster eater, brace yourself. Their consistently bright and buttery flavors make it a staple among the “elites” (Belon, Fine de Claire, Gillardeau, Kumamoto) in the Asian market.

2. Namibian Pacific from Namibia: Exotic places produce exotic flavors. Thanks to the nutrient-rich waters of Walvis Bay, these African gigas oysters grow quickly to be lusciously plump. They aren’t very salty, but packed with other earthy minerals. A punch of copper-zinc-steel flavors will linger in the back of your throat until you take a few gulps (maybe a whole glass) of water.  In 2008, repeat red tide events devastated the population, wiping out up to 80-90% of yields. Given the limited quantity and distribution, Namibia oysters are a rare treat for any adventure seeker.

Oysters in Rio de Janeiro

Santa Catarina Oysters with lime at Satyricon in Rio de Janeiro

3. Santa Catarina from Brazil: The quintessential Brazilian experience would be to have this oyster with a drizzle of lime, then followed by a sip of caipirinha. Sit back, relax, and your mind will go blissfully blank. Santa Catarinas are quite salty, which the lime helps to balance out. There’s also some rocky minerality and vegetal tones in the meat. At the time, I swore that it kind of tasted like bean sprouts (in a good way!) While Rio de Janeiro is a prominent coastal city, I discovered that the people there are surprisingly detached to shellfish and seafood. (Meat is the name of the game there.) I was only able to find a couple of places that offered oysters– one all-you-can-eat ordeal and another ultra high end seafood restaurant. Head south to Florianópolis, where oysters are king. That’s also where you’ll find the freshest Santa Catarina oysters around.

4. Kelly Galway from Ireland: The native Irish ostrea edulis (European flat) oyster is like the gregarious, bodybuilding uncle of the Belon. Its got a similar round discus shell, but 150% bigger than the biggest Belons that I’ve encountered. The adductor muscle is filled with soy sauce-like savoriness and is extremely large. In fact, it makes it look like the oyster is smiling like :-D. While I’m not the biggest flat oyster fan, I could eat two or three dozen of these Kelly Galways. They paired extremely well with a 2009 Rias Baixas from Bodegas Terras Gauda. The perfect time to enjoy these would be at the Galway International Oyster Festival in Ireland!

Oysters in Jakarta

Sydney Rock Oysters at C's Steakfood & Steakhouse in Jakarta

5. Sydney Rock from Australia: This Saccostrea glomerata oyster is a completely different species than any found in North America and lives everywhere around Australia and New Zealand. They are sturdy, adaptable and can tolerate a wide range of salinity levels. Their slender, cylindrical bodies are nestled in a sharply fluted shell with light-colored mantles that appear to be “shrunken” inwards– as if they were cold (brrr). Upon the first bite, the firm and elastic texture only adds to their tenacious reputation. These oysters can vary in taste, depending on where they are harvested in Australia. The ones that I tasted were earthy and pungent in flavor. They had a wonderfully nostalgic fishiness to them that reminded me of smoked or salted seafood.

6. Speciales Gillardeau from France: Considered to be the crème de la crème among French varieties, the Speciales Gillardeau has captured the discerning palettes of gourmands everywhere. This tender-bodied oyster is rolling with rich, broth-like savoriness that I immediately associate to really awesome miso soup. A smaller size will offer up even more vibrant flavors than larger ones. Don’t mistake them for the regular Gillardeau oysters– they are not quite the same. Gillardeau’s are not as sweet and complex in flavor. Though they may give off a nutty taste, which could be interesting to explore as well.

7. Fines de Claire from France: This is another favorite among Parisians and apparently throughout the world (I observed them being sold at fine restaurants in London, Brussels, Moscow, Dubai, Shanghai and Hong Kong). The elongated shell houses a slender and delicate body. The meat varies in saltiness, but possesses a crisp, fruity flavor. I’ve encountered Fine de Claires that have a melon rind finish. Fines de Claires must be fattened in a salty marsh bed (aka claire), where they will filter nutrient-rich water for a minimum of 2 months.

8. Jersey Coast from Jersey: Completely unrelated to the Jersey Shore or Snooki– there’s no need for that kind of a situation. (Bad pun, I know, but I couldn’t help myself). These deep-cupped oysters are from the little island of Jersey: a breathtakingly beautiful, environmentally-conscious, and culturally diverse place just north of the Normandy coastline. All Jersey oysters are harvested from the Royal Bay of Grouville, which gets a daily influx of some of the cleanest sea water in Europe. The meat is supple, crisp, and very savory, which was a bit addicting (kind of like like potato chips, but 2000% healthier!)

Senpoushi Oyster in Tokyo

Senpoushi Oyster at Fish House Oyster Bar in Tokyo

9. Senpoushi from Japan: At the Fish House Oyster Bar in Ebisu, a quiet neighborhood in Shibuya, Tokyo, a brochure of oysters from all over the country and world was bestowed upon me. Depending on the time of year, different varieties will be in season. It is challenging to experience the true essence of the oyster here due to Japan’s strict raw shellfish regulations. However, despite the post-harvest processing, the Senpoushi still managed to taste great. The body is long and shallow, while the meat is pleasantly creamy. It’s moderately salty and has incredible umami.

10. Bouzigues from France: Shellfish farming is a serious business in the Étang de Thau, the second largest lake in France. People produce both plates (edulis, flat) or creuse (gigas) oysters in the brackish waters. I tried the flat variety in Hamburg and was pleasantly surprised by its crunchy texture and fruity flavor. It had an aftertaste very much like watermelon rind– which was both unusual and refreshing. The best way to enjoy this oyster is to head directly over to Bouzigues and do an oyster tour and tasting.

11. Loch Ryan from Scotland: This oyster is intense in character and heralds from a historic maritime place. The Statistical Account of Scotland 1791-99 recorded that Loch Ryan “abounds with oysters of a most excellent flavour.” Today, both native (wild) and rock (farmed) oysters are harvested. These flat edulis oysters have a tangy, long-lasting metallic flavor that lingers in the back of your mouth. Smaller sizes are more potent in taste, while the larger sizes are more mild and sweet. Pair them with a full bodied white wine to enhance the taste of both.

Here’s a wrap up map that illustrates approximately where all of these oysters come from.

For more information about oysters around the world, check out some of these helpful articles/documents!

World’s Top Oyster Bars by Travel + Leisure

The Best Oyster Bars in the World by Journey Etc

Great Britain Oyster Tasting Guide (PDF) by Shellfish Association of Great Britain

Oysters of France by John McCabe

21 Responses to “11 International Oysters to Travel For in 2011”
  1. Great list, the Kelly’s from Galway are indeed a favorite. I was lucky enough to be in Galway for the Oyster festival two years ago and it was a treat.

  2. Ivan Maminta says:

    4 out of 11. I agree. These are worth traveling for. What does it say when you have it shipped in? Just as good? The Tasmanian for me was excellent. And the recipes to be had. Great post. Now I have something to look forward to next month.

    • Julie says:

      Oysters that are shipped directly to you may be as fresh, if not MORE fresh than what you can find in most restaurants. If you get oysters shipped directly from the farm, there’s much less wait time (at a distributor or restaurant). Generally speaking though, the quality of shipped oysters depends on who’s shipping, what kind of oysters they are (sturdy or delicate), and time frame. Depending on the kind, they can survive out of water for up to two weeks. You can determine the freshness of the oyster by the amount of liquor, or sea water, found inside the shells. The more liquid, the better. Hope that helps!

  3. Anita Grove says:

    If you find yourself in the southern United States we’d love to have you try some of our Apalachicola Bay Oysters here in Apalachicola Florida. We’ll even take you out to see how they are hand harvested.

    • Julie says:

      Thanks Anita! Thanks for the offer! Ever since reading Robb Walsh’s “Sex, Death, and Oysters,” I’ve been wanting to try Apalachicola Bays. With last year’s Gulf catastrophe, I wasn’t whether or not I would be able to for a few years. I know that the industry is getting back on its feet though, which is good to hear.

  4. Kitty says:

    This is the height of food writing gluttony, and I approve heartily. And yes, Tasmanian oysters are beyond compare. Farmed Belon oysters are also grown in Morocco, where I usually eat them. Looks like I have tho head back to Europe for the best ones!


  5. James says:

    Wow, finally someone else who is didcated to eating the oyster as I am. After several international experiences, I have to rate the Tasmanian oyster out of Australia in a league of their own! so plump, fresh and crisp.

  6. Ali says:

    Thank you Julie for sharing this list with us!
    I am great fan of oysters and I see that I have still plenty of places to visit.
    The only ones that I know in your list are the French ones and my preferred so far are the Speciales Gillardeau.
    As I like bodied oysters with delicate flavors and low saltiness, I think I should try the Namibian and Brazilian oysters you are talking about. Unfortunately, the constraining regulations in the US and Europe make it hard to get such oysters in the US or Europe.
    Anyway, I would love to see you trying Moroccan oysters and have your opinion. There is only 2 producing regions in this country, Dakhla and Oualidia.

  7. SO many oysters, so little time to travel!

  8. Nohad Videau says:

    Where can I order French oysters to be shipped to my home?

    • Julie says:

      Nohad, If you live in the US, this might be a tricky task. To my knowledge, there are many FDA regulations and no trade agreements made with France to allow that to happen. Also, because their supply is already scarce (and Europe is crazy for them), there is little to no incentive for any producer out there to take a risk on a work around. Thus, the sole purpose of my post is to encourage you to travel to the destination for the oyster — as they won’t be able to travel to you. :)

      If by “French oysters,” you mean the rarer belons or flat oyster (rather than the Pacific/gigas oyster which much of Europe also produces), try looking in Maine. They produce amazing Damariscotta Belons. However all of the oysters from France listed in my post are Pacific/gigas species. These are also grown up and down the West Coast — my favorites being from British Columbia. They are the same species, just grown in different places.

      Hope this is helpful!

  9. Delia says:

    so near and yet so far….. Aussie oysters are ok but a little plane ride across the Tasman sea and managing to avoid all the Pacific oysters masquerading as great whilst going down the South Island you find the small town of Bluff…… you will be very happy you made the trip when you get your first Bluff Oyester.

  10. Bob says:

    Great list… but I take it you haven’t visited Mali Ston or Whitstable?

  11. bob says:

    I agree with Delia, I have been to bluff in New Zealand and the Oyster’s there are to dye for. They have taste, body and texture. I have eaten oyster’s from many country’s from around the world and bluff Oyster are my favourits.

  12. bob says:

    It is Oyster season now and I belive that you can order internationaly through Barns Oyster in New Zealand. They come at a price of around $21.00 a doz NZD

  13. esther says:

    I just ate a plate of Namibian oysters and they were the creamiest damn things I’ve ever eaten. Have to concur on the Tasmanian oysters too from Bruny Islsnd, they are gigantic! Best oysters of all time.

    • Gerd says:

      Namibia grows Gigas in Walvis Bay and Luderitz.
      Walvis Bay oysters are mainly sold to the far East.
      The lean Luderitz oysters are grown in colder water and are mainly sold to the South African market.

  14. Kim says:

    I agree with the Bluff oyster comment, best oysters I’ve tried around the world, can’t wait for the season to start again on 1 March, normal manage one dozen a week on the grocery list!

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