Are you a fan of that famous aphrodisiac that shoots back like a shot? Ever considered trying the heavenly combination of oysters and Guinness or in general like the idea of gorging on a plethora of local seafood. Then you came to the right place. When I noticed that Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival 2017 happened to be taking place during my time on this island nation, well I just knew I had to be there. From that point on I planned my trip around the event. I wanted to spend a weekend slurping back oysters chased with Guinness to my heart’s content.
It was Friday night. The hour of 7 was approaching. Lined up in anticipation with the scent of steaming shellfish carried on the breeze as the vendors readied for the onslaught of attendees eager to pluck, slurp and eat pounds of molluscs. Making my way inside the tent no longer resembled a mere venue tent. A stage and dancefloor were directly in the center which immediately drew the attention as traditional Irish river dance was the opening welcome. Tables to either side filling up quick, a booth from Kelly oysters with non-stop shucking happening behind and at the far end, the fully stocked bar. An Irish quintessential.
Before line ups became a waiting game, I grabbed my complimentary pint of the black stuff and sample plate of 3 oysters. One solo, one with a slight squeeze of lemon and splash of Worcestershire (my favourite), while the last got a drizzle of mignonette. Pulling up a stool, I quickly indulged in my first taste of the deadly duo that is oysters and Guinness. I don’t know if Arthur Guinness had this in mind when developing the mighty stout or, if they came together naturally and the oyster just spread its shell, but this was a match meant to be. The sweet salty brininess followed with a swig of the rich creamy brew just flowed like leaves on a gentle breeze. Effortlessly and elegantly. Lucky for me, the taps flowed too and the oysters seemed endless.
Oysters were not the only indulgence though. Three more booths, one inside beside the bar with an extended line and the other two outside. It seemed they just couldn’t steam molluscs fast enough. Once at the front of the line, the decision was easy. A mixed plate consisting of mussels, clams and razor clams and they were not shy. Piled high, a mountain of shells filled the paper plate with the delicious Irish brown bread I’d fallen in love with for soaking up all those juices. Phenomenal. I barely made time to breathe as I plucked the morsels of flesh from their shells. I had to make sure I saved room for a taste of famous Irish smoked salmon which I got from the booth inside as the line slowly diminished.
The crowd grew around the stage as the band stopped and the enthusiastic master of ceremonies announced the national oyster shucking competition was about to begin. This would decide who would represent the emerald isle in the world championship, the main event the following day, as well as bragging rights for the year. I didn’t stay for the final judgement that evening as I knew I would be watching tomorrow as 22 countries went head to head.
2pm, Saturday afternoon. I skipped lunch in anticipation. I knew there was plenty more too eat. Upon entry, I made a beeline for the seafood chowder from the booth inside. Something of a constant I have seen all over Ireland. It was comforting for the cool dreary days that are a main topic of discussion throughout the country and today was one of them. I gathered my days complimentary oysters and pint and continued eating until I just couldn’t fathom another mollusc and then I ate some more.
Geared up and ready to go the International Oyster Shucking Competition was about to be underway. From a basket of 32 of Kelly oysters, competitors sorted and hand-picked 30 personally favourable looking ones. Time was not the only factor here. While speed played a vital role, presentation was just as important. The oysters needed to be showed the respect they deserved and look like a plate you would pay the exuberant price for in a restaurant. No shrapnel of shell, properly organized and separated from the shell ready for slurping back, it was surprisingly intense. Done in 4 separate heats, brine sprayed on the front couple rows and shells flew.
Patiently awaiting for the results, I feel all competitors proved they could shuck a mean oyster. As they took the stage one more time, the air thick with anticipation, the judges had spoken. Lithuania took the speed round indisputably, but that guaranteed nothing for the top three places. Canada, with their first entrance into the competition grabbed 3rd place, Ireland taking 2nd. For the 1st place winner, his speed helping, Lithuania was the world champion for 2017 at the 63rd International Oyster and Seafood Festival here in Galway.
As the festivities wore down with the sun, I snuck in my last six oysters for the day totaling nineteen that afternoon. It was over for me, but the weekend continued. That night was a masquerade party, followed by a more family friendly afternoon on Sunday. I only hope I can return in the coming years to attend this annual festival. Not only to take in the local food culture that is strong in Ireland, but to once again watch the fierce competition and most of all indulge in shellfish gluttony. If you’re in this beautiful country in September, do yourself a favour and go. It would be crazy to miss such a great event.
Have you ever attended an event like this? Let me know in the comments below!