In advance of this weekend’s Southern Ontario Oyster Festival, we survey some of the unique selections this city has to offer.
Oysters have been entrenched in this city’s diet since the early 1800s, when the completion of the Erie Canal brought American east-coast bivalves up to Buffalo, then here. Two centuries later, Toronto might just have the most unique selection of oysters on the continent—if not the world—with access to five North American species and dozens of international varieties.
The reason, according to experts like Patrick McMurray, owner of Starfish Oyster Bed & Grill and Ceili Cottage, and Rodney Clark of Rodney’s Oyster House, is our lack of access to local salt water. Confused? While a coastal oyster town sticks with what’s local, we import seafood from around the world. And since we have rigorous regulation standards, anything shipped from overseas is guaranteed to be the best and freshest available.
Click here for close-up views and descriptions of the oysters below:
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of varieties of oysters in the world. But in the U.S., FDA regulations prohibit importing most of them. So while New York’s Grand Central Oyster Bar has upwards of 30 varieties on its menu, it rarely carries any from outside North America. In Toronto, at any given time, we may have 70 different varieties served in our bars and restaurants. Hundred-mile diet be damned: Rodney’s has over 160 oyster suppliers, with the mollusks coming from as far as Kaipara in New Zealand and Ireland’s Galway Bay. McMurray says the flavour changes dramatically depending on where an oyster is raised—he’s identified some 200 tasting notes, which include descriptions like driftwood, horsey, melon rind and fresh-cut grass.
We even have our own approach to presentation: Serving oysters on a bed of crushed ice with lemon and freshly grated horseradish is known as Hogtown style, and it’s thought by some aficionados to be a superior way to plate the half-shell.
This weekend, Torontonians will slurp down 9,000 oysters at the Southern Ontario Oyster Festival, dismissing the centuries-old adage to “never eat oysters in months without an R.” That’s just rubbish, says McMurray: “That saying was based on the European oyster and written before modern technology, like refrigeration.”
The Southern Ontario Oyster Festival is Sunday, July 17 at Rodney’s Oyster House, 469 King St. W. (#KGW), 416-363-8105 ext. 22, 2 p.m.–10 p.m. $30 (includes six oysters and two beers).
1 in 10,000: Chance that an oyster will create a pearl naturally.
50: Number of oysters Casanova is said to have eaten for breakfast daily.
16: Number of hours it takes Rodney’s Oyster House to get oysters shipped from Auckland, New Zealand.
18: Number of hours it takes Rodney’s to get oysters shipped from Atlantic Canada.
1.2 million: Number of oysters sold at Rodney’s in 2010.