A plate of a dozen natural oysters ©Ross Land

Bluff Oyster Festival: unsophisticated and proud of it!

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See, it’s that whole food in situ thing again. Where are the internationally renowned delicacy known as Bluff oysters likely to taste best? Bluff, did you say? You’re good at this! Exactly.

And they know their onions down this way, so they hold a festival to celebrate the Bluff oyster season. It is criminally short, for they are criminally good. So good that that seafood legend, chef Rick Stein, says he comes to New Zealand for two things, and Bluff oysters are one of them (check out Fleur’s Place for the other).

The season begins in March, but the games begin in May, when this festival kicks off. And these slithery, salty, slippery little devils are the focus. ‘Unsophisticated and proud of it’ runs the festival’s strapline. Bluff is the bottom of the country (careful) and they don’t stand on ceremony. Which is as refreshing as that evil wind that blows off Foveaux Strait.

Look, if you just can’t do oysters, panic not: the festival frames up crayfish, scallops and that elusive and amazing abalone better known as paua, and they’re killer in a fritter. But, of course, if you do like oysters, then feast.

And wash them down with a minerally riesling from Central Otago or, this being Southland, whatever the weather, a big dark West Coast beer.

There are oyster-opening competitions – 20 oysters in 56 seconds has got to be pretty damn quick – and, of course, oyster-eating competitions. No one wants to rival the Roman Emperor Vitellus, who once ate 1000 oysters in a sitting, and walked away afterwards (to the vomitorium perhaps). All we know is that Darryl ‘Dagwood’ McDonald won in 2016. Numbers and time? Well, that’d be telling.

Shell out, show up, and get amongst it. This is a taste of the real New Zealand, boy.


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