THE MACAU COLLECTION: Bites that Love You Back
Golden Oysters Semi-Dried is the Real Thing
More than an aphrodisiac
Ancient poets swooned over oysters in drunk-speak.
Forget the slurpy fresh ones for a while. Foodies know the renowned French Gillardieu and Japanese Kumamoto types. It’s a different discovery journey here. I’ve been sampling the sunned varieties for years. Only species from the Sunrise Island (晨州), a mini 0.45 sq km of land gifted with a wondrous microclimate, can claim to be true Golden Oysters. These are full-bodied and boast of a golden sheen.
The oceanic aroma in a river delta permeates the island village. Almost everyone in the 400 families of this island is a seafood expert. Originally named Land of the Gods (my translation)(神州, not to be confused with the land southeast of Kunlun Mountains), this oyster island in Shanwei, the tip of Shantou in Guangdong, China, evokes visuals of egrets flying into the blue sky chorused by the sound of waves. Picture that.
If you’ve ever tried to photo dried aquatic creatures you’ll know the challenge of getting them to look handsome. I had the good fortune of devouring a batch that could win the beauty pageant.
Imagine the goodies lounging in glorious sunshine on giant bamboo sieves.
Like semi-dried tomatoes, fresh ones lack the same complexity, while dried ones lack plumpness. And there’s the umami in the gourmet semi-dried, with a moist and compact yet tender texture. Slightly smoky and slightly nutty, a distinct oyster flavor intensifies from the sunning process. That’s 3–5 years of concentrated riverine and marine goodness ready in 3–4 days.
Aphrodisiac? You bet. A natural boost for guys and beautifying agent for all, believers proclaim. Rich in amino acids and immunity-supporting nutrients, low in fat. Those are facts.
Something so good doesn't remain hidden for long.
Skewered on flat bamboo sticks for export are sunned oysters upwards of 8 cm apiece. Jumbo ones go up to 15 cm, rarely available outside of the island. And that fact attracts oyster tourists. Along with corporations. Can’t have it all, right?
From winter solstice through early April, these Cantonese delicacies bounce into prominence. They hold a special cultural place in Macau (a former Portuguese colony), the southern city famous for its world heritage of UNESCO sites and the title of Creative Gastronomic City. What a scrumptious combination!
Many stew these favorites in oyster sauce, or cook with ginger and scallion. Some use them in soups and congee. Despite the golden brown from tanning, the milk of the sea runs creamy white. Yup, that’s the color of the broth made with oysters. I love them pan-seared with honey sauce.
Sunned oysters are classic for the Lunar New Year season in the coastal Cantonese culture. They pop up in dishes usually accompanied with black sea moss (髮菜) as much for nutrition as for the traditional auspicious pun of prosperity (發財好市), thanks to the similarity in their pronunciation in Cantonese.
How else is the oyster island (蠔島) linked to Macau? A pun for the opulent action of the “Hey Big Spender!” (豪賭, again, a fun Cantonese pronunciation. Non-Cantonese speakers will just have to trust me). Just for fun. Delicious.
© PseuPending 2022
I haven’t fully inherited my mother’s incredible culinary talents, therefore very much enjoy being cooked for. Chef Arpad Nagy hardly needs my shoutout. Yet I am compelled to share his piece, completely different from the cuisines I normally write about:
A Gulyás By Any Other Name Is Not Hungarian Goulash
Setting the record straight and a recipe that’s better than great