Japan has a thing for oysters (牡蠣 kaki), and in the past handful of years many locales have begun harvesting them to attract gourmet travelers. Places like the ever popular Miyajima have long been known for their magaki, a winter delicacy, whereas iwagaki–rock oysters–are a Sea of Japan thing that are especially good during the spring and summer months. Oysters bars have become very popular in fashionable areas of Tokyo. The Matsue iwagaki sold in Tokyo tend to go for a ¥1200, whereas at 17 restaurants in town that sell official Matsue Iwagaki you can find them for as cheap as ¥800 for a single oysters. That’s still a lot of money for what many people all over the world cringe at the thought of putting in their mouths.

As a little personal history, I have been an extremely picky eater for as far back as I can remember. I am especially finicky about textures and how things feel when I chew them, and as a little kid, there was a time I had a mouthful of meat but refused to chew it because I so hated the rubbery bits of gristle. I am still haunted by the seemingly reliable chicken sandwiches in elementary school lunches that suddenly had a rubbery bit to failingly sink my teeth into. I often choose to forgo meat altogether because I’m so picky about lean cuts with good texture. This is part of why I love tofu–it’s dependably smooth.

However, as an adult, I’m quite proud that I’ve taught myself to tolerate–and even enjoy–many foods I used to refuse to touch. I can trace a lot of this back to my first trip to Japan when I was 18, when I tried foods again that I had refused to eat in years, or tried entirely new things, and found that they weren’t all that scary to have in my mouth after all. In fact, many of them were surprisingly pleasant.

Now, almost eight years later, my tastes and eating preferences have been mostly transformed. I still, however, loathe the rubbery sensation of gristle.

So… oysters? In particular, very large iwagaki? No, thank you, I was sure.

However, in the spirit of trying not to be so picky and having had many pleasant surprises over the years, I gave them a shot while visiting the Oki Islands because they were highly recommended. I figured that, if they were anything like sazae (turban shells, another Sea of Japan specialty), then I’d probably best be able to tolerate them covered in curry. Hence, I went with the deep-fried kaki covered in Japanese style curry sauce.

This is an abomination, as any oyster lover would tell you. Not knowing any better, I found them tolerable but not tasty. They were just chewy things in my curry. I decided I was not a fan of oysters.

It turns out, some other Sea of Japan spots with an iwagaki brand outright forbid the deep-frying of their oysters for the sake of preserving the integrity of the brand. Speaking of branding, I was invited to sample some Matsue Iwagaki from the cliffs of Shimane-cho so as to spread the word about this delicacy. I wasn’t particularly thrilled, but hoped maybe I could request some butter fried ones that I saw listed among the ways they are prepared, as I though that might make them more tolerable.

This invitation included a visit to the place where they are harvested. They began harvesting them on ropes with seeder oysters from the Oki islands about 17 years ago. The oysters take about 3 to 5 years to mature, and by then they are covered in plenty of other goods from the sea (many of which are also harvestable, such as the seaweed).




Although you can order them deep-fried or butter fried, grilling them over an open fire until they are half-cooked is a tantalizing option, but steaming them until they are half-cooked seems to be the most popular method. That is, if you’re even cooking them–by and large, every oyster fan I’ve met insists on them being served raw, as that is how you can taste them best.

I don’t care about the taste–what’s going to keep them from being rubbery!? When I mentioned to one of the people who proudly set me up for this taste test, he smilingly–but firmly–corrected me that they are tender, not rubbery. In Japanese, they are ぷりぷり (puripuri). While we were at the port, he also told us about a gigantic buri that was caught there. (I don’t think he knew my name as he was telling this story with me standing right next to him, but all my friends were giving me funny smiles. Yes, I share a name with a tasty fish. Yes, I know, I’m smooth and delicious. Not rubbery.)

They served us two freshly caught, steamed iwagaki each. I added a smidge of ponzu to one and a smidge of lemon to the other, as acidic things are supposed to bring out the thick, creamy flavor of this so-called milk of the sea.


It was… chewy… but… more tender than I expected.

In fact, now that I could actually taste it instead of deep-frying it and drowning it in curry, I could actually see why people like these things. Even the juice in the shell was salty but tasty. I didn’t even mind going for the second helping.

So… oddly enough, I guess I can honestly say they were good… and I might even have enjoyed them, now that I think about it. Now I find it a shame that I didn’t try them raw with no sauce, as apparently that would have been the ultimate oyster experience.

But hey, I do live in Matsue and can take my freshest choice of them anytime they’re in season, April through June. This is easier to do than I thought it would be, but I guess this is the part where I’m supposed to tell you to come out and try them with me. Otherwise, you oyster lovers can just be jealous of these big things at my fingertips.

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