SEAFOODNEWS.COM [Shuichan News] Translated by Amy Zhong – July 8, 2016
Three high-end restaurants specializing in raw, imported oysters have opened in the past 18 months in Xiamen, on China’s southeast coast. In this area, raw oysters are distinctly different from the traditional grilled ones. Despite high prices and concern about food safety, the new dish has attracted groups of regular customers.
A restaurant located in a Xiamen resort displays oysters from America, France, New Zealand and elsewhere on a shelf at the entry, attracting the attention of every consumer who walks by. This restaurant’s popularity has skyrocketed in six months.
Raw imported oysters on the menu sell for between 48 and 68 yuan per oyster, or about equal to one dozen of the local oysters. According to restaurant manager Liang, this high price is due to the high cost of the raw material. The oysters are flown from countries all over the world, at a cost of around 30 yuan each.
Consumers include people with experiences of eating raw oysters abroad as well as the adventurous elite, said Liang. Although eating raw oysters is still not common in China, the restaurant has attracted a group of regular customers and their number is on the rise at present.
Learning from Shanghai and Fuzhou, further north along China’s eastern coastline, Xiamen has introduced its residents to the culture of eating raw oysters.
Eating raw oysters originates in Europe and were first introduced to Chinese cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Xiamen restaurants have learned from the experience of these cities where raw oyster consumption has become a mature industry, said Liang.
Guo is another Xiamen restaurateur who has been in the business of importing oysters for several years. After seeing the success of raw oysters in Shanghai and Fuzhou, his company opened a raw oyster restaurant in April.
There is some concern about the food safety with raw oysters and restaurant managers think that it will take time for consumers to get used to the new concept.
It takes about 60 to 72 hours for oysters to fly from their places of origin to different Chinese cities, while oysters can survive for about ten days to two weeks after leaving water, said Guo. Apart from imported oysters delivered from Guangzhou, Shanghai, etc, raw oysters also arrive via direct flights to Xiamen currently. These oysters are still fresh upon their arrival thanks to the strict examination of the customs regarding their qualities as well as good conditions of foreign aquaculture facilities.
Still, consumers are worried about eating raw oysters and Chen is one of them. Chen’s hometown is also home to a great number of oyster farmers. In Chen’s view, there are locally harvested raw oysters that are not eatable, let alone those imported ones which have been transported by air for quite some time, he maintains.
Guo’s first restaurant, opened in Fuzhou many years ago, encountered this same kind of skepticism.
“But consumers living in coastal areas can tell if the food is fresh or not after one bite,” said Guo. “And it is a long journey to cultivate new eating habits among consumers,” he added.
The operating cost of imported oysters is actually quite high, said Liang. Imported oysters emit water during storage and usually the oyster taste is no longer so good after the fourth day of their arrival, added Liang.
So restaurant managers need to take great efforts to sell oysters in time to ensure good qualities and cut their cost. For example, in addition to hosting regular tasting parties, Liang texts customers about the arrival of imported oysters in a timely manner.
Meanwhile, restaurant managers are working hard to popularize raw oysters. Some do it with a store to home or office delivery service and some intend to attract more consumers through group buying. However, there are still great uncertainties about the prospect of this market.