A Geography of Oysters

Rowan Jacobsen begins his guide to the peculiarly adult pleasure in eating briny, live sea creatures by pointing out the obvious: “Oysters taste like the sea.” This, he writes, gives each delicious mollusk a “somewhereness” — or, if you prefer to borrow a fancy French vintner’s term for describing how climate and geography influence flavor, “terroir” (given that oysters’ “terra isn’t very firma,” he points out, the nonexistent word meroir might be more correct in describing the oyster’s ocean home but would get you laughed out of any restaurant). He lays out the basic flavors that one can expect from each region (cucumber, citrus, melon, copper, smoke), runs through the most obvious complaints made by the uninitiated, and provides a history of the good old, bad old days, from Native Americans who harvested wild oysters to the early ’80s, when restaurateurs, coddled by years of reliance on the shucked meat market, were stunned to discover that oysters could be served in their own shells. An appendix provides lists of oyster festivals, restaurants, and growers who will ship overnight to anywhere in the world. Though most of those who pick up this book will likely be previous converts, Jacobsen, a staff writer for the The Art of Eating, the food magazine with a deservedly cultish following, provides lively, lucid prose that should suck in even the most squeamish eaters.