Erst-While, Oyster-While, After-a-While
Let’s talk about oysters. The night before I left New Orleans, my sister, and old friend and I settled onto a picnic table at the edge of Lake Pontchartrain to eat oysters and other seafood at Felix’s.
The lake is a 630 square-mile body of water at the north side of New Orleans that is so big it borders six Louisiana parishes: St. Tammany, Orleans, Jefferson, St. John the Baptist, St. Charles, and Tangipahoa. It is crossed by “The Causeway,” the longest continuous bridge over water in the world (24 miles)! In restaurants, lakeside is where I first ate fresh boiled seafood and raw oysters. In fact, I learned to eat a raw oyster as young as two years old, hot sauce and all, with a bite of a saltine cracker and just one bite into the oyster before it slid down my throat. That’s the way an oyster should be eaten, “Noo Awlins” style.
Louisiana oysters aren’t like other oysters and certainly don’t even closely resemble a French oyster. They come from the Gulf of Mexico and are a strain of the Eastern Oyster (crassostrea virginica), but with a different taste and texture. According to an article by Teo Spengler in USA Today Travel Tips, it’s the freshwater of the Mississippi River that runs into the Gulf that lowers the salinity of the water and contributes to making Gulf oysters large, tender and meaty. The taste is mild, buttery, sweet and delicate, not to mention delicious. They cook to perfection — fried, sautéed, grilled or baked!
We have Native Americans to thank for having harvested them first, by wading out into the Gulf in shallow brackish water found in the estuaries and sounds. Oysters are the original transsexuals, as they spawn first as males, then later, as they grow larger, become females. Interesting, huh? Between May and October is the best season for a good fresh Gulf oyster, because they spawn in the summer. The largest reefs in the world are in Louisiana, but the numbers went way down as a result of the BP oil spill in 2010. The shells can be found everywhere in Louisiana, as they are used to pave driveways and parking lots, among other things. And you can bet that every single oyster having come out of those shells was enjoyed.
Head to the other side of the Atlantic and what you will find is the European flat oyster, round and flat, from the northern Atlantic waters of France. Some are called “Belons,” grown in the Brittany region and have a seaweedy sharp briny and mineral taste. French oysters do not cook, period, so don’t even try it! When I talk about cooked oysters to a French person, they make all sort of awful faces, but you see, they only know their Belons and not the Gulf oyster I grew up on. Which is better, you ask? Well, that’s a matter of taste, of course.
Every January and February, when travel writer Geraldine Kaylor (blogger of The Travel Oyster) and her husband come to Paris for his two-month teaching gig, they buy oysters at the Bastille Market on Sunday morning for the three of us to savor. It’s become tradition and I must admit, the oysters are very tasty indeed, but definitively I prefer a Louisiana mollusk over any other.
Am I prejudiced? Maybe, but before you accuse me of that prejudice as unwarranted, best you taste test the two and find out for yourself. Gulf oysters cost a whole lot less than French oysters. A dozen on the half-shell at Felix’s was a “whopping” $17.95 (restaurant price), while a dozen French oysters could set you back anywhere from 20€ to up to 144€ (at “Bar à Huitres“)! An “oyster loaf” or “Po-boy” sandwich made of almost a dozen fried oysters is just $17.45 at Felix’s. And if you haven’t eaten this particular sandwich before, then you simply haven’t lived.
In “Noo Awlins,” there is a particular accent spoken by people who live in a part of the city known as “the Irish Channel.” These were the Irish who settled in New Orleans about the same time as they did in Brooklyn, hence their accent is similar. My own is partly that, but not as brogue as most. When we were ordering up our seafood at one of the lakeside restaurants as a kid, the waitresses with their heavy Irish Channel accents, would call oysters, “ersters.” If you ordered a salad, she might ask you if you wanted “erl and vinegar” for dressing. And so it goes, as I learned early on: “Ersters’ll sperl if you berl ’em in erl in the terlet.” Got it?
By the time you read this, I’ll be happily ensconced back in Paris and my oyster eating days will be over until either next January with Geraldine or the next time I’m in Louisiana where I can order up a Gulf “erster.”
A la prochaine…
(with friend, Evelyn Rodos, at Felix’s)
P.S. Join host (and aspiring expat) Juan Ulloa on the journey to make Paris his some-day home. Meet some of his favorite experts and learn the process, joys and pitfalls of the expat life. Along the way you will learn about France, it’s people, history and culture. Juan’s latest the “I Rather Be In Paris Podcast,” a Podcast for the Aspiring Expat, is an interview with little ol’ me.
“In this episode he welcomes American expat and property consultant Adrian Leeds. Adrian is known to television viewers around the globe for her appearances on HGTV’s House Hunters International. She joins Juan from Paris, via Skype, to discuss her journey to Paris and the challenges she faced establishing herself as an expat, single mother and business owner. For almost two decades Adrian has represented many an aspiringexpat in their quest for a home in France. Her candid insight is a must for those contemplating the expat life! Learn more about Adrian, her company Adrian Leeds Group and the services it offers by visiting adrianleeds.com/. Sign up for Adrian’s Newsletters at adrianleeds.com/publications. Adrian’s interior designer, mentioned in the episode is Martine di Matteo. Her work can be found at martinedimatteo.com/.“
The podcast is available on several platforms including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Spotify. Visit anchor.fm/i-rather-be-in-paris/