A pearl amongst the oysters

It is said that to experience your first oyster au naturel is like taking your first ever dip in the ocean. In Whitstable, on the north Kent coast, the experience was something of a shock as I threw a freshly prised and very much alive mollusc down my throat. Yes, there was a definite dip in the ocean feel to it, but it was like being caught unawares by a wave and swallowing a mouthful of the briny.

When it comes to oysters, there really can be no better place than Whitstable, home to the world famous Whitstable Native Oyster. (Well, it's world famous at least as far as the Med; we know the Romans enjoyed a few natives from shells found as far away as the Imperial city as well as at a Roman site near Canterbury.) I arrived here in in time for the town's annual oyster festival.

At the harbour I made for the Oyster Fisheries Exhibition but first side-stepped into the Guinness tent. Here, for an open donation, you could indulge in unlimited oysters and draft stout, the perfect compliment I'm told. It was where Whitstable's finest connoisseurs, the fisherman themselves, could be found quaffing the slippery little buggers by the half dozen. I swear I watched a short pot-bellied man swallow at least two dozen in the time it took to drink my pint. It was here that I ate my first oyster. "Take courage", J Philpot advised in his book Oysters and All About Them, Vol 1, "for once the disgust is conquered, shuddering antipathy becomes natural craving".

Feeling surprisingly indifferent about the whole experience I made for the oyster exhibition at the eastern entrance of the harbour. Here I learnt everything a man needs to know about the humble oyster, from a chronicled history of the town's shellfish industry to their curious sexual behaviour. They mature as males, then change slowly into functional females, and can alternate their sex for the rest of their lives.

Most importantly I became educated in the subtle differences between the Whitstable Native and the rest of the oyster family, facts that give you credibility among the oyster eating fraternity. I now know that the term Native is attached to those oysters born and bred within the boundaries of the Thames Estuary. It is the combination of London Blue Clay as a seabed and a mix of fresh and salt water that produces a mollusc of superior quality, firmer in texture and with a more delicate cucumbery taste. This is the reason connoisseurs favour the Native Oyster (Ostrea Edulis) over the more common Pacific Variety (Crassostrea Gigas). Natives also have a certain exclusivity: taking the longest to mature (about four years) and being the hardest to cultivate in laboratories and most susceptible to disease, makes them less readily available and more expensive.

By now you would be forgiven for thinking that all Whitstable has to offer is its famous oyster but one of the council's information leaflets announces Whitstable as a "town of sunsets, seascapes and surprises". There are certainly seascapes, which depending on the state of the tide provide the visitor's eyes with either an expanse of chocolate-coloured sea or acres of chocolate-coloured mudflats. When darkness closes on a clear night there must also be sunsets, even if somewhat muted by a sun that disappears through London's smog out to the west.

What makes Whitstable attractive is not the seascapes or the sunsets but simply the town and its residents. Whitstable has resisted development into a resort - it doesn't even have a promenade, and given its proximity to Canterbury (only eight miles) it is not overrun by marauding hordes of visitors. It is a town with a village feel, where the shops still close on a Wednesday afternoon and dogs walk themselves through the streets. It's a real gem on our coastline, a bit rough around the edges yet crammed with narrow little alleyways and passageways cluttered with a jumble of inventive, and very desirable little cottages.

The surprises are, of course, all oyster shaped and include a number of places to sample the local wares. Worthy of a mention is The Royal Native Oyster Stores on the seafront for an excellent daily menu of seafood and somewhere to unravel a short history of the Whitstable Native over dinner with a few friends. As an alternative you could also try the tiny Wheelers Oyster Bar in the High Street (est 1856). At the end of an afternoon learning about oysters and how best to consume them, I perched myself on a stool there and stared at the fine display of local treasures before ordering a round of prawn sandwiches.

This weekend visit Whitstable for the annual oyster festival. Call 01227 275482 for details. The Oyster Fisheries Exhibition is open daily except Wednesdays 10am-4pm, May-September. Traditionally oysters were eaten only then there was an R in the month but today both pacific and native oysters are edible all year round - which is why Whitstable holds its festival in July.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments