Friday night, the best deal in town for oysters was not the Metropolitain (1$ an oyster, 4 to 7), it was not Whalesbone (they rarely have them below 2$ a piece), and it was not Big Daddy’s (they also offer a buck a shuck Happy Hour).
No, the place to be was l’Institut Canadien-Français d’Ottawa, located on Dalhousie. Founded in 1852, the ICFO held its first annual oyster dinner in 1870, an event that has been held every year uninterrupted to this day.
After a great sales’ pitch by a long-standing member who happens to work at my curling club, the Royal Canadian Navy Curling Club my team mate Ken and I decided to go for it – we both enjoy oysters very much, he being half-acadian, me being an athlete needing energy. For good measure, Ken brought two of his anglo neighbours and I was hoping to show them some French Canadian good times.
So for 40$, you could enjoy cold cuts, beans, cheese, pâté, shrimp, salmon, chowder, and all the oysters you could engulf. As long as you could open them, that is!
Because unbeknownst to me, this dinner is no fancy affair – it is a good old-fashion shuck’em yourself if you want to suck’em shingding.
I had never shucked an oyster before. Its not super hard, but it can be tricky and you can cut yourself if you are not careful. I could give you tips, but I do not want to be responsible for you slicing your hand, so feel free to scroll down to see how it’s done.
So the four of us started with a few drinks to warm up while the folks at ICFO prepared the tables for the feast. When ready, along with over 180 other happy Frenchies and a few wannabes (most of them hanging with me for interpretation purposes!), we started shucking and sucking.
The oysters were Malpèques, which were proclaimed “the Best in the World” at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1900. Their popularity is on the rise because the Malpèques have a very mild taste as far as oysters go, fairly light-bodied with a clean finish. You can get a hint of sweetness, no bitterness at all on these. They can go with almost everything, but I mostly enjoy them with a couple of drops of lemon.
We had a grand time. The oysters were fresh, and though there shape was not good enough for most restaurants, it is often in them that you find the best ones. Overall, we stayed there for over 5 hours, feeling at home amongst our new friends from l’Institut.