Foreign Affairs in Shanghai

"What do you want to eat?" is a standard question that my relatives ask me when I visit Shanghai.

Every year or two, for the past decade, I return to my city of birth to fill up on foods that are difficult to find in the states. The options within the realm of unusual and exotic seafood are seemingly endless. Restaurants will dedicate several photo-filled pages within their menus to hai xien or seafood, and often further categorize dishes under fish, sashimi, shellfish, crab, and specialties (abalone, shark fin, sea cucumber).

Ironically, my favorite delicacy of all is not so popular here.

Raw oysters are not eaten nor desired in Shanghai, which is understandable considering the dangerously high water pollution levels here. Only a few high-end western restaurants offer it, including Laris at Three on the Bund. I was determined to see their "raw bar" selection for myself, so I set out over the weekend to have dinner there during Restaurant Week. The food from the prix fixe dinner was beyond repair, but the oysters saved the meal from being a complete and utter disaster. It didn't come without a price though. At 50-55 RMB ($7.40-8.12 USD) per piece, the imported Fines de Claires and Tasmania oysters were definitely the most expensive raw oysters that I have consumed thus far. The entire Laris selection included: Wellfleet from USA, Olympia from USA, Kumamoto from Japan, Fine de Claire from France, Tasmania from Australia.


Raw Oyster Tasting Notes

Fine de Claire from Marennes-Oléron, France

This beautiful slightly fluted 4-inch shell with a milky-colored interior contained a 3 inch oyster that tasted of sweet brackish waters, which soon opened up into a subtle hint of melon rind. Upon doing a further Google search I discovered that this oyster label belonged to David Hervé, a legacy oyster farmer based on the west coast of France, about two hours north of Bordeaux. The Fine de Claires spend part of their lives in a "Claire" or fattening pond. In these former salt mashes, the oysters are fattened and take on an attractive green color. Depending how long they remain in the claires, the names change, "fines", "fines de claires" and "spéciales de claires."

Tasmania from Tasmania, Australia

The ambiguity of this oyster's exact origin in Tasmania makes it difficult to put the flavors into context. The Tasmanian oyster industry harvests from various sites around the north to southeast coasts of the island, but they largely raise the Pacific oyster (c. gigas). I can confidently report that this medium sized fellow (2.5 inch) was certainly fresh. They kind of look like these Cameron's oysters, except the shell was darker in color. The abundant liquor smelled like the sea and the taste reminded me of waves crashing onto the rocks. Different textures came to play upon chewing: the soft oyster belly contrasted well with the tougher, more resilient adductor muscle. The finish was clean, leaving little trace of its flavors to linger upon.

I wanted more, but was a little out of my financial comfort zone here…