Taiwan is well-known for its delicious specialties, and many of it’s most famous dishes include seafood. There are many special dishes with oysters, especially in Southern Taiwan. It is very common to find oyster omelettes, ginger oyster soup, and fried oysters in high-end restaurants and street vendor stalls. The reason why oysters are so common in Taiwanese cuisine is because the salty marshlands and lagoons in the Southwestern coast of Taiwan are rich with commercial oyster farms. As a long-time oyster lover, it was long overdue that I toured the oyster farms in my area. With the weather beginning to cool down, it was a perfect time to make the trip.
On Sunday, September 27th, I gathered the wife, kids and my camera for our weekly adventure. We chose to head towards Cigu near the coast. I wanted to see the oyster farms. I only expected to take photos of Taiwanese women shucking oysters, but the day offered much more than anticipated. We headed for Cigu, thinking that was the best spot to take photos of oyster farms. A policeman in Cigu informed us that the best place to go was to head to Longshan and Oyster Lagoon. We pointed our motor scooters in the right direction and followed the road signs.
We arrived in Longshan in time around noon, and noticed oyster shells in neat stacks along the road. We followed a small road to a house where the stacks of oyster shells were high. There was a small lady in her 50’s or 60’s working on baskets of oyster shells. She demonstrated how she punctured holes into the oyster shells and ran nylon string through the holes. The Taiwanese lady, as many in the town, made a living supporting the oyster farming industry. Like many industries in Taiwan, individual households, had the opportunity to make a living by providing a small part of the whole process. In this way, everyone had a way to make a living, without one large entity controlling the whole process.
The oyster farming industry relied on long strands of old oyster shells, and the people who prepared them. The strands of oyster shells would be fastened to wooden frames in the brackish salt marshes, to attract new oysters that would attach themselves to the old oyster shells. After two months, the strands of old oyster shells would be harvested, bearing many fat, new oysters ready for shucking. Oyster farms covering many square kilometers spanned most of Oyster Lagoon, near Longshan and Cigu. Oyster farmers on their long flat boats diligently tended their oyster lines, keeping them separated from each other, and making sure the oysters were submerged throughout the low and high tides. After about two months, the oysters were ready to harvest. The farmers would jump into the water, gather the nylon lines, ripe with oysters, and disconnect them from their submerged wooden frames. We saw boat after boat loaded with oysters returning to Longshan port to bring to the shucking companies.
After thanking the lady we just met for showing us how she did her job, we proceeded into the center of Longshan. We parked and enjoyed the buildings that were decorated with oyster shells and ocean motifs. We found our way to a oyster shucking operation on the roadside and talked to the women who were working there. They were shucking steadily with experienced hands to reduce a very large mound of freshly harvested oysters. (See photo at the top of this article) We asked where we could enjoy the best oysters for lunch and they directed us down the road. The streetside restaurant was delectable. They had live crabs and clams out in plain view, as well as their freshly shucked oysters. It happened to be owned by the in-laws of one of my wife’s cousins. Our lunch was memorable. Fried oyster cakes, followed by shrimp rolls whetted our appetites. A heaping helping of fried oysters dipped in a sweet sauce was heavenly. Oysters with noodles and ginger oyster soup washed it all down. Some may have claimed that I overdid it on oysters, but I didn’t feel that way at all.
After finishing every last bit of our meal, and chasing it down with tea, we walked into the center of Longshan. The pavilion was dominated by the Longshan temple. The temple was pretty extravagant for a small town. It overlooked a canal, which harbored about two dozen flat boats. Most of the boats were used by the oyster farmers, but there were two tour boats as well. At the entrance of the tour boats, there were groups of people grilling oysters over their charcoals. This was a treat offered by the tour operator for those paying for the tour. My wife asked me if I wanted to take us on the tour, and I jumped on the chance to go. Tickets were NT 200 (US $6) for adults and about NT 100 (US $3) for each child. It included the 90 minute boat tour of the oyster lagoon, a 30-minute walking tour on an island and beach, and the all-you-can-eat oyster grill. Who could say no?
We took the boat tour into the Oyster Lagoon. It was an old, wooden boat with worn blue paint. The engine chugged along loudly, and the gas fumes were pretty strong, but the steady breeze made the ride pleasant. Once we left the canal, and entered the still waters of the lagoon, the wooden frames suspending the oyster shells seemed to go on endlessly. As the waves from the boat made the water around us lower and raise, we could see the oysters suspended on the lines. It took a pleasant 35 minutes to arrive on a small barrier island. We disembarked and followed the broken dock to a wooden foot path into the conifer forest. It was somewhat surreal and beautiful to experience a forest in Taiwan that was not in the mountains. After a short walk, we reached a clearing that revealed a beach. The beach was a beautiful sight, except for the trash and driftwood that littered the area from Typhoon Morakot. My family spent 30 minutes walking along the beach. The kids chased crabs and found their favorite pieces of smooth driftwood. We returned to the boat and had another 35 minute ride back to the harbor.
Once we arrived back at the dock, we took advantage of the oyster grilling the tour company offered. At first, I had no idea it was all-you-can-eat. My oldest son Johan, did most of the cooking. The heat of the fire made the oysters burst open. One could choose to slurp down an oyster almost raw, or cook it a little longer for a firmer texture. After two baskets of oysters, I had enough for one day.