An Oyster Story: From New York to Iloilo to Cebu

Even William Shakespeare knew the value of an oyster. He famously created the quote, "the world is your oyster," in The Merry Wives of Windsor. 

The popular line means that one should make the most of what life has presented under the circumstance. Nothing is easy, you have to put some hard work into it. Similarly, in order to get to the pearl or meat of an oyster, you have to pry the shell open first. 

It's a wonderful mantra to remember when you're faced with a challenging situation. 

I have a confession to make. I didn't enjoy eating oysters until last year. For years, I had a love-hate relationship with the mollusk. 

I had more unfortunate encounters with oysters than favorable ones. But after having a good experience at Charcoal Boy which specializes in oysters farmed in Iloilo, I became an enthusiast for that particular mollusk.

Oysters are an acquired taste, not everyone is a fan. It has a silky texture and when you pop one in your mouth, you don't even need to chew it. It will easily slip down your throat. Through the centuries, the oyster has been considered a delicacy.


A couple of weeks ago, I started reading Mark Kurlansky's The Big Oyster (History on the Half Shell), and he chronicles the love affair that New Yorkers have with this succulent seafood.

Reclaimed portions of Manhattan island is full of calcified oyster shells. They were used for landfilling as well as old wooden boats and ships. 

Oysters were so abundant that it was part of every New Yorker's diet. It wasn't limited to a certain class in society. I've seen 19th Century photos where carts full of oysters were being peddled on the streets. 

Ellis and Liberty islands used to be called Oyster islands because of the vast oyster beds located in their vicinities.

I don't know why I thought of oysters while watching Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist the other night. It could be that the movie was set in New York and the main characters spent an entire night going around Manhattan looking for their favorite band. 

Gypsy cabs, Dive spots, band music, Gray's Papayas, neon lights, emo teenagers, and oysters define the nightlife of New York City!

The popular Oyster Rockefeller was created in one of the New York restaurants to substitute for escargot in the 19th century. Because of the richness of its sauce which includes herbs (parsley) and green veggies (spinach), it was named after John D. Rockefeller, the wealthiest man in America. 

Funny thing is, there were no oysters in the movie I just chanced upon it while searching for something about New York in Netflix. There was one character in the movie who spent the entire time being drunk --- that's how I feel after eating an enormous amount of oysters. 

Oysters have been an institution in New York. It was the greatest import that made the economy as early as the 17th-century. Manhattan is known for it's Oyster bars. A little bit on the expensive side but they do carry on a New York tradition. 


Most oyster-lovers are spoiled. When we order them at restaurants, especially the fresh ones, they're already served on the half-shell. Meaning they've been washed, shucked, with fresh lemon or calamansi and vinegar on the side. 

Pouring hot water over these shells or steaming them are other ways of getting to the luscious meat. 

Iloilo is known for its numerous oyster beds and you can order them by the bucket in most eateries found in the province. And it won't cost you a fortune.

Exporting oysters to other provinces is an industry in Iloilo. And I also learned that oysters are transported 'live' to maintain that freshness and quality. 

When I first arrived in Cebu many years ago, there were restaurants that included fresh oysters in their buffet choices. There was even one which is popular for its All-You-Can-Eat oyster menu. 

But then again, I had some questionable encounters with these places. It could be that I was unlucky enough to have eaten a dubious one or my constitution is not built to consume so much of it.

When I started patronizing Charcoal Boy, I think I've developed an immunity to the dangers of eating too many Oysters. On another hand, it could also be a testament to how fresh their oyster supply is. I've also controlled myself not to eat too much during dinner time to give my system more time to digest it.

There are myriad ways of preparing oyster. It boils down to what your taste preference is. 

You might want to check out the gallery I created on the different oyster dishes that are available at Charcoal Boy. 

Chili oysters

Oyster Rockefeller

Fried Oysters

Baked oysters in butter and cheese

"How do you like them oysters?" I like mine fresh and baked with butter. 

How about you? What's your favorite oyster dish?