High Life Decoded: Your Essential Guide to Eating Oysters

10 tips for navigating the raw bar like a pro.


Photo: Liz Barclay

Oysters are strange things to love. The briny little bivalves are housed inside of hard shells that diners tip back into their mouths, sending the still very-alive little fellows down the gullet, sans chewing. To novices and non-devotees, the whole practice seems bizarre and even repulsive. And yet the mollusks attract a cult following—these days, it's almost an anomaly when a hot new restaurant doesn't have a raw bar, and $1 oysters are the new 25-cent wings at many bars around the country.

Whether you’re a newb or a seasoned veteran, there are a few facts that everyone should know about the almighty oyster. The experience of ordering and eating the things can be a bit intimidating—and, in rare cases, dangerous—if you don’t know what you’re doing, but this 10-step primer will give you the tools to navigate the raw bar like a pro. Click through the slide show to have all your burning oysters questions answered by two shellfish pros.



The Experts

Sandy Ingber (left) started at Grand Central Oyster Bar in 1990 as the fish buyer, expediter, and purchasing agent. He became the chef in 1996 and has remained in the role ever since.

Todd Mitgang (right) is the chef-owner of Crave Fishbar on the Upper East Side and South Edison in Montauk. He has oysters delivered regularly to his doorstep at his home in Long Island.

Click to start the list
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  • Katy Davidson

    Hey, nice article, but just wanted to say, eating oysters without chewing is a bit of an old folk tale. If you don’t chew, firstly you may get it stuck in your throat if it is of the larger variety (major off-putter for newbies) and secondly, miss out on a whole flavour, texture and quite physically juddering experience (in a good way). I always compare it to a good wine. You would not put it in shot glass and down it in one.. it’s the same for oysters, they are to be savoured before being swallowed. I always recommend sipping a little of the liquor first to prime the palate, then tipping the oyster in and giving it a good checking out with your tongue moving it across your palate briefly, then chewing to release the creaminess and get the whole sensual experience zinging in your mouth. I’m based in the UK and run http://www.mangezmoi.co.uk Another oyster passionista! :)

  • Katy Davidson

    HI there, nice article (just posted a comment previously but it didn’t seem to stick). Just wanted to say that the swallowing the oyster whole thing is a bit of an old folk tale. (highly likely to be from the days when there was no refrigeration and oysters were a major source of protein for the poor and they had to get volume down for nutrition reasons, rather than our lucky pleasure marathons with these bivalves). If you down an oyster in one, firstly you’ll possibly get it a little stuck in your throat if it’s one of the larger varieties (common off-putter for newbies) and secondly, you’ll be missing out on a whole journey of flavour, texture and exhilaration. When I do my oyster talks I always compare it to a fine wine.. you wouldn’t put it in a shot glass and down it in one gulp. The oyster deserves the same reverence. I always recommend having a little sip of the liquor to prime the palate and get a feel for the merroir of the oyster, then tip it gently into your mouth, get a good feel of it with your tongue, gliding it over your palate, then give it a good couple of chews to release the creaminess and get that whole juddering experience of flavour, texture and vitality that comes with eating these wondrous little capsules of primordial ocean.. ;)

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  • mission_dog

    maison premiere is legit, love that place.

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