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March 15, 2012

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Pearls of wisdom

OYSTERS are great, either raw or cooked. They are also good for you and have long been considered an aphrodisiac. Good thing they are easy to find in Shanghai. Sophie Turton shucks a few.

There are few foods as luxurious as the oyster, not to mention as innately sexy. There is a culture surrounding oysters, a sense of passion and prestige similar to that of fine wines and cheese and they subsequently speak to the heart in more ways than one.

Oysters are not only delicious; they are one of the most nutritionally well-balanced foods, high in protein, carbohydrates and lipids. According to the US National Heart and Lung Institute, oysters are an ideal food for inclusion in a low-cholesterol diet. Four or five medium-size oysters supply the recommended daily allowance of iodine, copper, zinc, iron, magnesium, calcium and phosphorous.

There are many different breeds of oysters, differing in size and texture, each with its own unique flavor. Each time a breed of oyster is harvested, the taste changes slightly; this emulates the ever-changing tides of the sea. Each batch may contain different minerals or have more or less salinity, providing the same breed of oyster but with a different taste experience.

Oysters survive by filtering sea water, feeding off minerals and algae which become trapped in the mucus of their gills. An average male can filter up to 5 liters of water an hour. Consequently, their taste is largely dependent upon their habitat and what they have been filtering. The brine contained within an oyster is the sea water from where it was harvested, allowing the consumer to literally taste where the oyster is from.

"Oysters thrive in rough seas, as this allows them to pull in more nutrients; usually, the rougher the water, the better the oysters," says Christoffer Beckman, manager of the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund's Long Bar.

Size matters

Additionally, taste and texture are dependent upon depth and age; larger oysters are older, have a thicker shell and often a stronger taste.

David Brode, head chef at Shanghai's Oysteria, says: "With oysters, size matters. This has almost everything to do with age. Species does come into it but mainly it's to do with how long the oysters have been allowed to grow."

The long-standing food of lovers, oysters are widely known for their aphrodisiac qualities. While there is no scientific proof for this belief, the minerals contained within oysters are certainly fit for the purpose.

Oysters have more natural zinc than any other food; zinc is essential for the production of testosterone and the healthy function of the male reproductive system. Oysters also contain easily digestible proteins and are a great energy food. Of all the proclaimed aphrodisiacs, oysters appear to be one of the most legitimate.

"There's not too many sexier foods than a freshly shucked oyster on a shell," Brode says.

Shanghai has several bars and restaurants which specialize in oysters. Several of which provide not only a fantastic taste experience but are also perfect for special occasions or a night of pure opulence.

Shanghai Daily investigates what the Pearl of the Orient has to offer, by experiencing Shanghai's high, mid and low range oyster options.

The Long Bar

Cuisine: The Long Bar's main culinary attraction is the oyster bar, which stands proudly at the head of the room and displays a selection of some of the finest and freshest oysters Shanghai has to offer. The selection changes weekly, featuring oysters from all around the world, which are flown in twice a week to ensure freshness and quality.

Ambience: The Long Bar is not only stunning but contains a great deal of Shanghai's history, particularly in relation to the bar's Bund location. The bar, although recently renovated, has retained much of its former opulence and is the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion and enjoy Pudong's impressive skyline.

Who to invite: Friends and family with a more refined taste and appreciation of luxury.

Pros: This is an experience unlike any other. A night at the Long Bar will pamper your plumes, shine your inner diamond and appeal to an almost childlike sense of awe.

Cons: This is the absolute top range of oyster options in the city, so expect to shell out some serious coin.

Recommended: While oysters are traditionally paired with champagne, The Long Bar is in the process of launching a new concept, which combines the often eclectic tastes of oysters with the refined, smoky flavors of whisky. Try the combination of a Tasmanian oyster and Glenrothes 1998 Vintage whisky or a Gillardeau oyster paired with the Bowmore 12-year-old whisky. The Gillardeau has a subtle, salty creaminess that is beautifully accented by the rich lavender smoke of the Bowmore.

Drinks: Wines from around the world as well as a wide selection of cocktails and whiskeys. The Long Bar has something to suit every palate.

Cost: 288 yuan for Bowmore 12 paired with 3 special Gillardeau; 248 yuan for Talisker 10 paired with 3 Fine de Claire

Address: 2 Zhongshan Rd E1

Tel: 6322-9988


Cuisine: The oyster menu at Oysteria has a wide selection of species from across the world, offering mainly the traditional, freshly shucked option with a variety of condiments such as shallots and red wine vinegar, seafood cocktail sauce and sweet chili sauce. In addition, there are several baked and fried options for those not used to, or comfortable with, eating raw seafood.

Ambience: Oysteria is a small bar and restaurant, which provides a comfortable and laid-back dining experience. The quality of the oysters is of a high standard, providing a sense of luxury, yet the relaxed atmosphere of the restaurant caters for more low key occasions. The restaurant seats up to 80 guests; the majority of the tables are relatively small, creating a more intimate dining experience. The experience was made even more special by the presence of head chef David Brode. His passion for oysters and knowledge of their history enhanced our own appreciation of this culinary delight.

Who to invite: Friends and family, business partners or boyfriends and girlfriends. This is a "dining-to-impress" location without breaking the bank.

Pros: A laid-back atmosphere paired with fantastic cuisine and obvious passion. Additionally, special oyster related events are held quite regularly, for example the "shuck a minute" competition where guests are encouraged to compete for the title of best shucker.

Cons: The oysters and beverages are the definite highlight of Oysteria. While the rest of the food is good, it is overshadowed by the oysters on offer. The beans underneath the sea bass were cold and we were unsure whether this was intentional.

Recommended: The oyster flight, which is a selection of over 12 oysters of different species; the selection changes daily. This is an exceptionally good deal and allows the oyster connoisseur and newbie alike to try a wide range of different flavors and pairings. The oyster flight comes with a selection of four condiments; in addition to the classic options of shallot and red wine vinegar and seafood cocktail sauce, there is a fusion sweet chili sauce and a wasabi and soya sauce to choose from.

Drinks: Oysteria is pioneering the "Bloody Oyster," their own take on the original cocktail, pairing the slightly acidic flavors of the classic Bloody Mary with the salty, succulence of oysters. In addition, there is a wide selection of beers, cocktails and soft drinks, along with an extensive wine list.

Cost: The oyster flight is 398 yuan (US$63.05) and is good for at least three people. The average cost for one oyster is 40 yuan.

Address: 226 Jinxian Rd

Tel: 6256-8998

Tongchuan Road Seafood Market

Cuisine: On Tongchuan Road the selection of fish and seafood is impressive, especially for one who is passionate about foods from the sea. One of Shanghai's biggest fish markets, Tongchuan Road is open 24 hours a day and sells the city's freshest and finest seafood. Lining the streets is a wide range of restaurants and street vendors, all cooking up a variety of local fish and seafood dishes.

Atmosphere: Among the hustle and bustle of fish vendors and customers looking for the best deal, Tongchuan Road provides an excellent insight into local life in Shanghai. A far cry from the luxury of the Long Bar or the relaxing ambience of Oysteria, this oyster option is a much grittier alternative. The best time to visit the market is late evening when the streets are full of Shanghainese families, settling down for their evening meal.

Who to invite: Anyone and everyone. This is a much cheaper oyster option and can be enjoyed by all. Be a bit daring and settle yourself down with one of the Shanghainese families enjoying dinner at the road side. Try out your Chinese and experience a more traditional side to life in Shanghai.

Pros: Providing a very different approach to oysters, this experience is unique to China. The act of perusing and choosing your own oysters makes the experience more fun, if not slightly more daring.

Cons: As with all street food, you take a risk. The biggest issue when oysters are involved is that food poisoning from an oyster is possibly the most horrendous and dangerous imaginable. Keep this in mind and be safe in your selections.

Recommended: There are several restaurants that line Tongchuan Road; Xin Jiu Long Tang is a particular favorite. If you go before the evening rush, the chef will assist you in choosing your oysters before grilling or cooking them to suit your taste. Although this somewhat takes the fun out of selecting your own oysters, it is a much safer option. For a different taste texture to the classic oyster experience, try your oysters grilled and lightly seasoned. While this significantly deviates from the traditional approach to oysters, this Shanghainese twist provides a taste sensation all of its own.

Drinks: Bring your own or buy a beer or two at of the street vendors and restaurants.

Cost: 30 yuan for a selection of four grilled oysters and a portion of rice.

Address: Xin Jiu Long Tang - 920 Tongchuan Rd, near Caoyang Rd

Tel: 6265-8977


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