In search of a small oyster|小さな牡蠣を探して

 Beatrix Holland Beatrix Holland  / Nov 22, 2023

Australia cities are filled with passionate food lovers. But none more so than Melbourne, where Australian Rules Football (AFL) and dining are the twin religions. I lived in Melbourne for eight years before moving to Tokyo, a city possibly even more obsessed with eating and drinking.


Before I left, I was used to flying between the two cities. When I moved in 2019, I assumed I was simply flipping my holiday destinations and would be back in Melbourne regularly. In 2020, like so many things, this possibility evaporated.


During the next three years, I missed friends and family, but there was something else I thought about a lot- oysters. While Tokyo can satisfy and challenge any and every food-based desire, when it comes to oysters… there’s something missing.


Japan has two main types of oyster. Pacific oysters in winter and Iwagaki oysters in summer. The flavour can change depending on where they are from, whether they are farmed or gathered and what’s going on with the weather but it’s safe to say that they are both delicious. I can enjoy them in nabe, in kaki furai, and raw with ponzu and vinegar. But there’s no escaping the fact that they are big and somewhat milky.


An oyster, maybe a Sydney Rock Oyster, should just be a perfect mouthful. A little hit of brine and maybe mignonette- the simple dressing made from shallots, vinegar and pepper that can elevate the oyster. Enjoyed by the half dozen, a plate of oysters is the perfect start to a longer meal, the perfect accompaniment to a late afternoon glass of white white or champagne, or the ideal late night indulgence.


When I arrived in Melbourne in August for my ‘summer’ holiday, I knew oysters were high on the agenda. I headed to the beach first. It was the middle of winter in Australia, so it was cold, empty and beautiful. And it was oyster season.


The first oysters I ate were shucked by hand in my friend’s kitchen. He made a mignonette from pickled fennel and, as a nod to my visit, mixed in a touch of yuzu kosho. We quickly ate a dozen oysters, pulling them straight from the plastic bag and sliding the shucking knife through them.


This was the beginning of a month in which plates of shellfish appeared and disappeared almost daily. At pubs, cafes, restaurants, and bars, I met with friends, family and former colleagues to learn about post-pandemic Melbourne. The city experienced a lockdown enforced by curfews and checkpoints. People worried that the character of the city would be forever changed. Some beloved institutions had been forced to close. Now, looking forward, new businesses have opened and people have returned again to old favourites.


I found that my life in Tokyo is harder to relay to friends but with the shared love of food, I could describe my daily experiences. The simple joy of a conbini sandwich. The local tachinomi standing bar where the owner loves music from New Zealand. The way my neighbours and I exchange furusato nozei gifts of perfect seasonal fruit.


Landing back in the heat of Tokyo, Melbourne began to feel unreal again. With friends at a favourite izakaya, I couldnt help but order a single oyster. It arrived in the half shell, warm from being lightly grilled before I splashed on some ponzu.


Photo and Text by Beatrix Holland



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