Samui Wining & Dining
Casanova’s Catch

Finding out the truth about thatmost famous of aphrodisiacs – the Oyster

 

2-3 For millennia mankind moved amidst folklore, legends and myths. There were fables of gods and heroes. Tales were told of lost cities under the sea. To begin with this was passed on by word of mouth. And then came education, technology and science. The age of reason scoffed at such nonsense and proved it wasn’t true. Magic became merely superstition, and unicorns and giants faded from the earth to become nursery tales for children.

     But there’s one legend that still persists. For ages it was more than a myth. People swore by it – alongside powdered rhino horn and pickled bull’s privates. For many, it seemed true. Then science proved it wasn’t. And then, just recently, science is now having second thoughts. And today research indicates that there might be some truth in the myth that oysters stimulate desire. They are high in zinc, which promotes the production of two rare enzymes, which leads directly to increased levels of both testosterone and estrogen – a natural aphrodisiac, in fact.

       The word ‘aphrodisiac’ was born not so long after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, sprang forth from the sea in an oyster shell and then gave birth to Eros. Because Aphrodite was said to be born from the sea, many types of seafood gained associated reputations as ‘aphrodisiacs’. Ancient people also believed in the so-called ‘law of similarity’, reasoning that an object resembling genitalia must therefore possess some kind of sexual power. Ginseng, rhinoceros horn, and oysters are three classical examples of this.

       And even as far back as the second century AD, a satire by Juvenal, a Roman writer, mentioned that the Romans documented oysters as an aphrodisiac food. In fact, Juvenal wrote at some length about the ‘reckless ways of women’ after they had ingested wine and eaten 'giant oysters'. This may have been partly wishful thinking, but it wasn’t a patch on the ‘greatest lover the world has ever known’ – at least that’s how Casanova liked to describe himself!

 

There are special knives for
opening live oysters, which have
short, stout blades and a
downward curve at the tip.

       

Today, the Venetian, Giacomo Casanova, has indeed attained the reputation of one of the most famous lovers in history, although he was far more than just a womaniser. He was utterly amoral, a confidence trickster, an alchemist, spy and church cleric. He wrote satires, fought duels, and escaped from prison more than once. But his prime addiction was women. And, to assist him in his (con)quest, it’s documented that he frequently ate over 50 raw oysters a day to boost his libido. They were served in the classical style, raw (which is often known as ‘on the half shell’), when they are supposedly at their most potent.

       Oysters are not the easiest of foods to eat and most places will open them before they’re served. This is partly due to the fact that sometimes people are unsure as to quite what to do. There are special knives for opening live oysters, which have short, stout blades and a downward curve at the tip. The way to do it is to insert the knife into the hinge at the back of the shell and pry it open. Then quickly whisk the knife underneath the meat and cut it away from the muscle that attaches it to the shell. Experts suggest that you should chew a raw oyster to make sure you get the full effect of the rich taste. On the other hand, if you are a tad squeamish, it’s easy enough to swallow them down in one gulp.

       Samui is an island and, as you’d expect, you’ll find that very many restaurants have fresh seafood on offer. But, although crabs and prawns abound, oysters are harder to come by. The main reason for this is that they are not caught by the local fishermen but have to be specially ordered. Some of the better restaurants will feature an oyster or two in a seafood basket, or as part of a buffet. But, if you hunt around, y o u ’ l l discover that there are restaurants for which oysters are something of a speciality.

       Mark Krueger, Executive Chef at one of Samui’s most respected resorts, the 5-star Tongsai Bay, buys his in from the oyster farms of Suratthani, on the mainland. These are concentrated in the estuary areas of the Kadaeh and Ta Tong rivers, and the oysters found there are substantially larger and more succulent than those found elsewhere. You can enjoy these at their sumptuous Monday night BBQ, as well as finding them on the à la carte menu. And there can be very few resorts that have created a cocktail around them – in this case the exotic ‘Oyster Mohito Shooter’, made from Suratthani oysters, lime, mint, rum and soda.

       One place which has elevated the humble oyster almost to the level of an art form is Karma Samui. This resort is to be found just around the corner as you leave Chaweng, heading towards Choeng Mon. Its RockPool restaurant is one of Samui’s better-kept secrets; a very laid-back eatery with a dramatic sea view and a big, open deck below that’s perched overlooking the rocks. And there’s a gigantic tree incorporated into the landscaping which provides pools of dappled shade. And then there’s Martin and his oyster menu!

        Martin Selby is the Executive Chef at RockPool, and he’s not only crafted a tapas selection that’s hard to equal, but also a stand-alone oyster menu. The items are changed every week or so, according to supply, and you can select from – and elect to have them served natural, Kilpatrick or Rockefeller – Australian oysters from Coffin Bay, Creuse oysters or Fine de Claire No.4 oysters from the Atlantic coast of France and oysters from Ireland, amongst others. Each have their own distinct flavour and texture and Martin will keenly explain their attributes in detail when you see him. And an ideal time to do this would be at their regular Sunday Brunch which is, not surprisingly, ‘oyster-themed’, along with lots of other seafood, tapas, and a full menu of Thai food.

        Oysters are something of a gourmet item and you won’t see them everywhere. But when you do, make the most of them. Like all sea food they’re full of goodness but they’re also rather special – and if you need convincing, just ask Casanova!/p>

 

Rob De Wet


 


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