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A Color I Can Taste April 18, 2010

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink.
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By Alex Sawit

18 April 2010

 

To download this wallpaper of Brittany, click here.

 

They call it glasz.

In the old Celtic language of Brittany, that’s how locals describe the bluish seascape of this panoramic region in the northwestern corner of France. Wandering between blue, green and gray, it’s a color so vast that visitors can’t help losing themselves in its hues as it permeates the rugged coastline from sea to sky. Glasz is part of my enduring recollection of Brittany from years ago. I regret that my youthful preoccupations back then distracted me from developing a much deeper attachment to this place at the time. Nowadays my mind races at the thought of those bluish sea cliffs and rocky shores, which are idyllic to my sense of adventure.

Yet glasz is more than a color to me. It’s also something I remember tasting. Brittany not only has superlative seafood but boasts of the best oysters on earth. Visiting the famed oyster town of Cancale, I eagerly devoured the substance of that boast – succulent, nutty-sweet oyster meat with the perky flavor of sea foam, topped with a twist of lemon before being dispatched in my ravenous jaws. Bretons say you can taste their bluish coastal environment of water and air in these prized shellfish. I like to call it glasz you can taste.

Still, even though the taste of glasz belongs to Brittany, it does have aspiring counterparts around the world. Even here in our own country, we have something suggestive of it. Just visit our neighbor up the street if you don’t believe me.

A short walk from our wine shop is Gustavus, a chic little restaurant & bar that opened not long ago as the street’s unofficially designated steak house. For months I’d only ever driven past its frosted glass exterior on my way to work, not because I didn’t believe customers of ours who enjoy the steaks there but because I simply had my own place to attend to. Then one of them started raving about the fresh oysters. “Local oysters,” he said as he took note of my curiosity. Visit after visit, he praised them as being of the finest quality, all at a menu price that was a steal. I had to try them, he insisted.

 

My thanks to Biba for these pictures of her oyster feast
at Gustavus with other Cyrano friends.

 

So I did. I strolled over to Gustavus, sat at the bar and was served a hefty plate of pearly shelled beauties on a bed of rock salt with lemon slices. A single order yields more than half a dozen pieces (at P240 per serving, the menu price is a big attraction). Further, though I deemed them to be of fair size, the manager apologized for their “smallness.” The warm season at the oyster farm was to blame, he said, otherwise they would have been bigger. He needn’t have worried.

Let me spell it out: W-O-W. The moment I lifted that first juicy oyster from its half shell and sank my teeth in, I knew that this was the real deal. With fresh-from-the-water fleshiness, each one was soft and creamy in the mouth, combining a buttery flavor with a kiss of the beach. Engrossed in my feast, I suddenly felt the flash of a memory, of me in a little restaurant in a small town in Brittany, plucking the contents of half shells and chomping away to my heart’s delight. In that instant, I remembered glasz.

 

 

Afterward, I reflected some more at the wine shop. The idea that someone was cultivating local oysters this good and delivering them fresh daily to my neighbor left me both impressed and relieved (having grown up in a household where the institutionalized attitude was to drive out of town and bring home sacks of muddy critters that always seemed to smell like ditch water, I had lulled myself into thinking that the local product would never be good enough to make me feel safe about eating it in its natural state). According to the restaurant, the supplier is a foreign entrepreneur who farms in the waters of Aklan a few hundred kilometers to the south before flying the oysters here for processing and distribution.

But is this equal to the taste of glasz? It occurred to me to ask myself that after I heard a story from another customer of ours. He told me about a foreigner who was farming top grade oysters in Aklan and exporting them to E.U. markets. Crucially, he said the expat claimed that his product was as good as Europe’s best. That meant Brittany’s. I asked if this exporter was supplying Gustavus, but my friend had no idea. Regardless of whether it was the same supplier or not, I told my friend that the boast was actually a harmless marketing tool. But hearing it spurred me to ask and answer my own question.

No. Delicious as they are, the local oysters do not equal the taste of glasz, that special meld of hazelnut sweetness and tangy sea foam edge, as I remember it to be. They are merely reminiscent of it. Yet in my opinion, that in itself is a worthy distinction.

It’s been weeks since that first encounter and I’m happy to say that I’ve been regularly enjoying oysters at Gustavus for what they are. I’ve even given my recommended white wine pairing to the restaurant manager (I didn’t recommend Muscadet, however, even though that’s the traditional French pairing for European flat oysters, because the pronounced acidity of Muscadet cuts too harshly against the lighter, more delicate flavor of these Pacific oysters served at Gustavus). And while I will always love the taste of glasz, my palate embraces all that differentiates the local delicacy. Come to think of it, it’s a taste that conjures the sunny turquoise waters and blissful white sand beaches of the world from which they came.

I wonder if the locals in Aklan have a word that describes the kaleidoscope colors of a tropical island paradise. It’s just a teasing thought for this avid oyster eater.

 

 

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Comments»

1. Bladewisp - April 18, 2010

yep, those oysters in gustavus are damn good indeed!

2. Alexander Sawit - April 19, 2010

I absolutely agree, Mike P. Just bring the gang over (with Tina, if she’s back in the country) to the shop so you can pair our wines with those oysters via take-out order from the restaurant.

3. J - April 27, 2010

We have pics of our trip to Cancale. If so, I’ll send them to you. Feel free to post them up here. =) J

4. michael chang - June 20, 2010

hmmm. i wonder if reading this post will get me free oysters? actually had some oysters at antonio’s. they were excellent. satisfied my craving. thank god. because those oyster photos you posted are drool-worthy. must try gustavus sometime when the oysterbug bites. – S


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