Oysters galore in the big apple

Stuart Forster heads to New York and delves into the long-established tradition of eating oysters in USA’s biggest city.

For urban travellers of the modern age oysters are not merely food, they are symbolic of luxury and provide moments of epicurean delight. A plate of oysters and a glass of wine is a delicious afternoon or evening pleasure. Does anywhere in the world come close to matching New York City for the variety of oysters served?

Many jetsetters are surprised to learn there’s nothing new about enjoying oysters in New York. Early Dutch settlers of Nieuw Amsterdam, the city’s former name, claimed the waters around Manhattan held oysters as large as one foot (30 centimetres) across. Archaeological evidence has proven those claims are not as far-fetched as modern foodies might imagine. Analysis of shell piles, known as middens, have proven that it really was possible to acquire oysters measuring between eight to ten inches (20 to 25 centimetres) when Europeans first settled on land around the waterways that we know today as the East and Hudson Rivers. These days you won’t find them that big in the restaurants and oyster bars of New York, but the city remains of the best places on the planet to enjoy oysters.

Where else could you order a couple of Naked Cowboys (an oyster variety cultivated in waters off Long Island), alongside Skookums (from Washington State) and Yaquinas (from Oregon)? They count among the many North American varieties you can find on menus in the city’s raw bars.

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