Eating a raw oyster is like doing a shot. Shoot it, swallow, and wait for the kick of horseradish and lemon. Whatever you do, don’t think about it.
Of course, I didn’t take my own advice the first time I tried an oyster. The rough bivalve in my hand felt like a seashell I’d stepped on during beach vacations past, yet I was about to put it in my mouth. “Just throw it back like you’re taking a vodka shot,” my friend advised. Little did he know that the first time I took a vodka shot, it went up my nose. I hesitated and the briny mix of lemon and salty oyster juice went down the back of my throat. This was going all wrong, but I had to persevere. Then came the meat, which I chewed through like a particularly slippery bouncy ball. This wasn’t ideal, but I hadn’t gagged yet- success. I swallowed. I had just eaten a living organism.
“He was a bold man that first ate an oyster,” Jonathan Swift said. Well, I am an even bolder woman. Before that onerous oyster-eating experience, I had never eaten seafood. Well, apparently, I did before I went to kindergarten, but then five year olds peer pressured me away from the fish stick, and it stuck. I skipped shrimp cocktail at my parents’ parties, searched for the one steak on all-seafood menus when we vacationed in Nantucket and proudly said I wasn’t a sushi snob. After 17 years of this, I wasn’t even sure if it was because I actually disliked the taste, or if I was just stubborn. When you’re growing up, your tastes change as often as Taylor Swift’s boyfriend, and you start to wonder if you even know who you are; at least, I knew that I hated seafood.
Yet somehow I found myself sitting in Felix’s Oyster Bar on a spring break trip to New Orleans this past March. After a long morning of meandering around The French Quarter, I had wanted lunch, and this was where we were going to eat according to my three friends. Once again, peer pressure bested me. “How are you going to be a famous food critic if you don’t eat seafood?” one friend teased me. I had never even told him about that fantasy. Was I talking in my sleep (we were sharing the same hostel room, after all)? I rolled my eyes at him but begrudgingly decided to try just one. They watched with almost anthropological fascination as I slurped, swallowed and ultimately survived oyster-gate. It was like a gateway drug, as I stole a few fried oysters off my friends’ plates throughout the trip and even ordered pan-fried drum on my last night in town. Almost two decades of seafood shirking and all it took was one week in New Orleans to change me- they call it The Big Easy for a reason.
I would still rather snorkel with fish, but I can stomach them if they end up on my plate, too. Maybe I’ll start eating Marmite next.