Canada’s capital once known as Hog Town know boasts some of the best seafood in the country. Fresh lobsters, oysters and mussels from the Maritimes await the seafood lovers in places like Rodney’s Oyster House. But who wants to be indoors when you can slurp your fresh oyster at a jam-packed festival with local bands and brews – and all that for a good cause?
If ‘yes’ is your answer, you shouldn’t miss the annual Ontario Oyster Festival.
Local seafood aficionados go bananas every year to secure their discounted advance tickets. And every year it’s sold out. Of course you were part of the smart crowd and got your online ticket. Pass through the stately wrought iron gates – and let the fun begin.
As you squeeze yourself through historic alleyway-turned festival grounds, you can see Toronto’s diversity on display. Young and old, long-time residents and new Torontonians: They all can’t resist the unique and intoxicating blend of fresh seafood, high-energy music and local beers, all in support of the Canadian charity Environmental Defence.
The money goes to Environmental Defence’s Blue Flag program. It’s a highly acclaimed eco-certification program for clean beaches and marinas. Toronto boasts eight of them with pristine sand and water. A wonderful way to enjoy the summer in the city – and another item for your to-do list after the festival…
You wouldn’t guess by the young crowd, but the Ontario Oyster Festival is a veteran on Toronto’s culinary summer circuit with its 27 years running. Year after year, local restaurant Rodney’s Oyster House, supported by dozens of volunteers, dishes up the best seafood Canada has to offer for rock bottom prices – and people keep coming back for more.
The sea of people is interspersed with islands of food, drink and music: some Niagara peninsula wine here, some local beer on tap there. You prefer a classic Caesar? No problem!
And then there’s the food. Dozens of shuckers are lined up to produce a steady stream of fresh oysters. Plate after plate of the benignant bivalves disappears into the crowd. But there’s more: fresh mussels and lobsters await seafood enthusiasts. For land-lovers, there’s beef ragout and gazpacho.
You go straight for the festival’s signature dish – a plate full of fresh oysters. You can take the class route and sprinkle them with lemon juice. Like it hot? Try Tabasco or Worcester sauce instead.
Why not cap off your culinary treat with an Ontario-grown cava? Cold and bubbly, it’s just the right drink on a hot summer day as you get ready to mingle. Didn’t bring your own friends? That’s okay, you’ll make new ones in no time.
And what’s more bonding than watching a good ol’ competition with quick hands and sharp knives racing against the clock? Yep, it’s time for the annual oyster shucking competition that’s part of the festival. First round: the amateurs facing off. Shucking knifes slide in and out of molluscs at dizzying speed. The crowd goes crazy as the time keepers counts down. Knives away! And then it’s time for the judges to peek and probe the opened oysters like precious diamonds.
Second round: the pros. Anyone thinking oyster shucking shouldn’t become an Olympic sport will have their come-to-Jesus moment right there. Skilled shuckers like seven-time Canadian champion Eamon Clark shuck faster than your eyes can follow with a new oyster opened cleanly every four or five seconds! And it’s not just about speed: the pros shucked oysters are clean as a whistle.
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After the competition wraps up, the watching and jeering crowd turns into a frenzied dance party as local DJs pump up the beats. Slurp another microbrew to fight the heat and enjoy the moment.
Summers in Toronto are short but intense. And the same goes for Oysterfests. As the sun sets, you know you’ve found your festival pearl.