We didn’t head for the Gulf of Mexico with oysters on the brain.
In fact, we had no idea Oysterfest was about to kick off until after we arrived. We just heard the sound of the sea and followed it. The rest was good old-fashioned dumb luck.
When it comes to finding fests, we seem to have a lot of that sort of good fortune.
But first, we wanted to see the real Texas coast. The off-the-beaten-path, rough-and-rugged part of the gulf. And we were pretty dad-blame successful.
Taking a short ferry ride from the mainland out to Mustang Island, one of the many long and narrow barrier islands that line the coast from Galveston down to South Padre, we found a stretch of the road less traveled.
Perhaps the coolest thing about Mustang Island are the hard packed beaches. The sand is so solid that we could ride our bikes right along the water’s edge — actually IN the water at times.A good part of the island is a State Park, so the shoreline is undeveloped and free from tourist traps.
It was great! We rode for miles, dodging washed up jellyfish and swarms of squawking seagulls. Cars and big ole RVs share the beach with cyclists, fisher-people and seaside frolickers.
When wandering the island’s more civilized section, we stumbled upon an ad for The 31st Annual Oysterfest in nearby Fulton, where the streets are literally paved with oyster shells.
There was never the slightest doubt as to where we would be spending our weekend.
Fulton shares Aransas Bay with the town of Rockport, as in, the greater Rockport Fulton Metroplex, but folks come from far and wide for Oysterfest.
Once we joined in, we could see why.
We don’t know if it’s from the thirty-one years of practice, or that Texans just know how to throw a hootenanny, but they have got this fest down
This party ain’t just a parade and some booths, it sports a full midway, with all of the stomach churning thrill rides any kid could want.
Along with the rides, there are plenty of fried/sugary gut-bombs to provide ammunition for the projectile vomit that’s sure to follow. Being kids at heart, we couldn’t resist getting upside down a time or two.
The contents of our bellies remained in place, just barely.
Beyond the midway, two ginormous tents house the arts and crafts fair and the main attraction — the oyster-eatin’, beer-drinkin’, music-listenin’-to and two-steppin’ area.
There’s a boatload of brilliant bands in Texas and the fest found them a few. Mighty fine music to suck down longnecks and shellfish to.
Of course the star of the show is the oyster, and Fulton had thousands of them — laid out and freshly shucked — on yard after yard of makeshift plywood-on-barrel tables.
So fresh that we’re possibly spoiled for any future oyster offerings.
Not all of the oysters were raw, there were several varieties of bivalve preparation available for consumption.
They had ’em smoked, fried and grilled — but one offering really caught our eye — Oysters Diablo. Fried oysters, hot sauce, bleu cheese… like buffalo wings, and they are goo-ood.
We ordered up a second round.
As much as we were enjoying the chow down, the real eatin’ had not yet begun.
The highlight of every Oysterfest is the raw oyster eating contest. For this spectacle, we would most certainly remain spectators.
We couldn’t think of a more disgusting competitive eating medium than raw oysters.
Obviously, the advice try not to barf applies to both the participants AND the observers.
For the contestants, that’s actually the only real rule — no barfing. Anyone who hurls during the five minutes of frantic oyster ingestion is disqualified, but the regulations go one step farther.
An additional five minutes of no hurling time is tacked on after the eating, to assure that everyone keeps it down. Just in case the urge to purge
hit, there was a Skid-O-Kan close at hand.
After some formalities and poking fun, along with a touch of trash talk, the entrants were seated at long tables and given plastic baggies filled with twenty five pre-shucked slimy fellas.
A quick check-in with the judges, a count down from the crowd, and the clock was started. The baggies were emptied with shocking speed and more were distributed as needed.
Most of the competitors were simply slurping the oysters down right out of the baggies, but others had developed unique techniques for rapid raw shellfish consumption.
It was not pretty.
A common method of sliding the pearl-producers down one’s throat was to mix in mass quantities of Tabasco sauce. Dumping the oysters out onto the table to let the juice run off, then stuffing them down the old gullet one by one was also a popular choice.
The eventual winner had developed a customized cup approach that paid off — he had drilled holes in a big plastic cup that let the disgusting, barf-inducing slime drain off before tossing the oysters down the hatch.
It certainly seemed to work, because he swallowed two hundred of the suckers in the allotted five minutes. He then managed to hold them down for the required additional five to take home the $200 prize.
A dollar an oyster, what a deal! I’ll bet he won’t want to eat another one for oh, I’d say about a year, when he defends his title.
During the disgusting display, we got to wondering, how do you catch an oyster? What better place to find out than at Oysterfest? We decided we’d ask the wonderfully fun folks of Fulton.
Surprisingly, we got completely different answers from almost everyone we asked. Everything from go to the store, to step on them, to the correct dredge them up. Seems like they know a lot more about eating oysters than catching them around these parts.
The truth is, oysters are dredged with a rake that is pulled behind a boat. They live in beds on the bottom of the shallows, and are very susceptible to environmental impurities. Which brings us to a much more serious note.
We were lucky enough to experience this year’s Oysterfest before the Deepwater Horizon spill began to decimate the gulf region.
Now vast amounts of oyster habitat has been soiled by oil — so far not in this part of Texas — but the oil continues to spew forth.Even if the leaking well is stopped, it will could take decades for the Gulf of Mexico to return to any semblance of its former self.
Wonderful towns like Fulton may very well cease to exist.
This was our first Oyster Fest, let’s hope it is not the Gulf’s last.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com