This weekend, the small town of Whitstable, located on the south coast of England, in Kent County, celebrated the 33rd edition of its oyster festival.
Whitstable is a place where oysters have been collected since the time of the Roman Empire. In that period, they were considered a delicacy and were sent alive back to Rome. Some companies in the area, like the Whitstable Oyster Company, can boast about having being in business since the 15th century.
The festival attracts hundreds of people, and the trains from London to Whitstable — a little more than an hour — are always full. Until last year, the festival was celebrated in the port area, where the majority of events were concentrated. This year the organization has changed, and along with than having oyster kiosks in the port area, surely the most beautiful, there’s also a food fair in Tankerton Slopes, a 15-minute walk from the port. There, long lines formed at the entrance and dozens of stalls offered everything from local cider and oysters to food from around the world, like French crepes, fajitas, or noodles. And there’s no shortage of music, either, with a band and musicians of different styles all around the town.
The unloading of the first oysters of the season, the event that opens the festival, took place on Long Beach. There, three sailors handed over the first oysters to local authorities. The delivery was followed by what’s known as the Seafront Procession, in which the small Oyster Scouts bring a full car of oysters, followed by people wearing hats shaped like various fish. One of the most highly anticipated moments of the festival is a Man vs. Food-style Oyster Eating Challenge, in which the award goes to whoever can eat a half-dozen oysters and drink a half-pint of beer the fastest.
The price of the oysters varies significantly from stand to stand and also depends on the difficulty of their cultivation. But in addition to oysters, there’s also every type of seafood, mussels, crabs, clams, prawns… and of course, fish and chips.
Text and photos: Mónica R Goya