The hottest, slurpiest festival of the summer is almost here. On July 21st, at Rodney’s Oyster House on King, they’ll be celebrating the 25th year of the Ontario Oyster Festival. As always, all proceeds will go directly to Environmental Defence, and all shucked oysters will go directly into your belly. Every year, the tented event gets around 1,000 guests from Ontario and neighbouring provinces.
The event, which runs from 2pm to 10pm, includes a lobster boil, an oyster shucking competition and an oyster eating competition. Think you’ve got what it takes to eat more bicuspids than the rest of the oyster-loving nation? You’ll have to prove it while riding a stationary bicycle, a challenge brought on with this year’s Tour de France theme. Guests will even receive rubber “OYSTERSTRONG” bracelets, a playful nudge at the Livestrong/Lance Armstrong debacle, especially with the accompanying tagline “Eatin’ ain’t cheatin.”
The lovely folks at Rodney’s (namely, the Rodney kids, Eamon and Bronwen Clark) gave us a preview of what the event would entail. They’re very aware that some people just don’t really dig seafood, which is why they offer a coq au vin option for friends who want to attend the event for the spectacle but not the slippery selections. And they know that the oyster can be misunderstood, so they’re more than happy to educate the general public on their favourite salty little treat.
Firstly, an oyster should never smell bad, just simply of the ocean. Oysters that live in harsh conditions like cold water are tastier, because they store more fat in case of food scarcity. The briny liquid in the shell, called the oyster liquor, should be consumed with the meat as it contains some of the flavours of the oyster. When tasting an oyster with a liquor pairing, you should first take a sip of your drink, then chew the oyster, then taste the drink again. A good oyster wine cleanses your palate to prepare you for your next shell.
When learning about oysters, like wine, it’s sometimes hard to recognize the subtle differences in varieties. I know I was having trouble picking them out. Events like the Ontario Oyster Festival are not only a raucous good time, but an extremely valuable way to learn. By lining up different varieties side by side, you’ll really start to learn about which kinds of oysters you particularly enjoy. And at only $35 per person, it’s a very affordable way to sample. If you’re an oyster beginner, here’s a tip: try the Kusshi! I’ve never experienced an oyster like that: intense lingering flavours of melon and cucumber that stayed on my palate even after a swig of Guinness. It is an awakening experience when you realize the flavour possibilities that you can find in each different oyster.
The way the oysters play off of different liquor selections is eye-opening as well. The Kusshi neutralized the coffee notes of the Guinness; the aggressive and salty Belon oyster reduced the powerful Bowmore 12 year single malt scotch into a pleasant vapour that rested on the top of my mouth.
It’s a wonderful world under the sea, but the best parties are on dry land, so don’t you dare miss the Oyster Festival this year!