Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Patrick Rajaonary at Cafe de la Gare and Oyster Shucker Raza
Friday night is oyster night at the trendy Café de la Gare in Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo. I went there with my Malagasy friend Patrick Rajaonary and our wives. We only had oysters and wine: 7 dozens of wild (not farmed) oysters from Fort Dauphin in the South of Madagascar and the Blanc Sec from Clos Nomena, the new winery in Madagascar that is only using the European grape varieties for its wine.
Dining and Wining in Antananarivo, the Capitol of Madagascar
Off the eastern coast of Africa, Madagascar in the Indian Ocean is the 4th largest island in the world. Long known for vanilla beans and peppers, you can dine in its capital Antananarivo like in France, but at much, much lower prices and you can drink imported wines, mainly from France and South Africa, as well as – and this comes as a surprise to most visitors - good wine produced locally.
Before becoming a sovereign country again in 1960, Madagascar was a French colony for over 60 years. The food in Madagascar is thus French-Malagasy. French food in Madagascar ranges from basic bistro food to one star Michelin food. The traditional Malagasy food is rice three times a day, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a bit of meat or fish and bok choy type greens. The Malagasy eat this with a spoon and a folk - no knife.
I have written on Malagasy food and restaurants: Wining and Dining in Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar – Schiller’s Private List of Restaurants in Antananarivo, Madagascar and Schiller’s List of Restaurants in Antananarivo that Serve Malagasy Wine - Madagascar on schiller-wine.
Oysters in the World and in Madagascar
Oysters are found all over the world. I distinguish 4 types of oysters:
The Pacific: Originally from Japan, the Pacific or Japanese oyster is the most widely cultured oyster in the world. It accounts for 75% of world production. In France, it has crowded out the Belon and now accounts for 99% of oyster production there.
The Olympia: The Olympia is a very small oyster seldom exceeding 2 inches. Olympia is a native American oyster, which once flourished on the West Coast, before the Pacific took over. Olympias are hard to find today. The Olympia has a very full flavor with a distinct aftertaste.
The Atlantic: Another American native. Also called Eastern oyster, the Atlantic has a thick, elongated shell that ranges from 2 to 5 inches across. It's found along the Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico in the US.
Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Oyster Guru Jon Rowley in Seattle tasting oysters and oyster wines: West Coast Oysters and Wine with Jon Rowley in Seattle, USA
The Belon: The Belon, or European Flat, is Europe’s native oyster. The Belons are round and shallow. That’s why they are called Flats. They are also not very liquid and dry out fast. They have a long history. They used to grow in Brittany, Normandy, England, Spain, Holland, Greece and the Black See. But a disease is wiping them out worldwide.
Oysters in Madagascar a found along the shore at many places, but mainly in Mahajanga (in the West) and in Fort Dauphin and Tulear (in the South). Importantly, there is no commercial oyster farming in Madagascar, but all oysters are wild oysters. Fishermen dive down up to 5 meters to harvest them. The oysters from Fort Dauphin we had at Café de la Gare were very large, whereas the oysters you find elsewhere in Madagascar are tiny. I do not know yet, into which categories the Malagasy oysters belong.
Pictures: Small Oysters from Mahajanga (above) and Large Oysters from Fort Dauphin (below)
Wine in Madagascar and Clos Nomena
Not well known in the rest of the world, Madagascar produces wine. Typically, Malagasy wine tends to be of good table wine quality, not more. Traditionally, the main grape varieties are Petit Bouchet, Villardin, Chambourcin and Varousset for vins rouge and the Couderc Blanc for vins blanc. These are all so called French American hybrid grapes. Generally speaking, French-American hybrid grapes have the advantage of being robust, but do not match the so-called European grapes in terms of elegance and refinement. I have written on the wines of Madagascar: The Wines of Madagascar - Good and Interesting Table Wines.
Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Clos Nomena Producer Jean Allimant and Marie Nomena Allimant
But there is now one winery that is radically different, as it makes wines exclusively on the basis of the European grape varieties (vitis vinifera): Vitis vinifera grapes are without any doubt the best in the world for fine wine. “We only use the noble European grapes ” owner Jean Allimant said at a recent tasting of his wines. Moreover, Clos Nomena is using the modern wine technology available to the winemakers around the world, while the other winemakers in Madagascar do not do this, at least not to the extent Clos Nomena does. Finally, Clos Nomena has teamed up with a professional winemaker from the Bordeaux area, who brings his experience and expertise in fine winemaking to the job. In sum, Clos Nomena is very different from all the other Malagasy wines … and you can see it in the price of the wine.
My wife Annette and I have known Clos Nomena owners Pâquerette and Jean Allimant for many years through joint Betsileo friends. I have written about Clos Nomena on schiller-wine: Taking the Wine of Madagascar to New Heights.
Oysters and Wine at the Café de la Gare in Madagascar
Café de la Gare is one of “new wave” restaurants in Madagascar that have sprung up in the past decade. From a Parisian point of view, there is nothing special with the Café de la Gare. It is a trendy café of the type of which you find many in France. But in Madagascar - a poor, developing country - these kind of restaurants were not existent 10 years ago.
Pictures: Cafe de la Gare, Antananarivo
We only had oysters and wine: 7 dozens of wild (not farmed) oysters from Fort Dauphin and the Blanc Sec from Clos Nomena, the new winery in Madagascar that is only using the European grape varieties for its wine.
Picture: A Dozen of Fort Dauphin Oysters
The oysters were very tasteful. My wife Annette said “That was really a feast! The most delicious oysters I ever had. Tasted like sea in the beginning and then when biting into it, an incredible sweetness. Then the bliss when swallowing the Clos Nomena blanc with it.” Nothing to be added.
Picture: Clos Nomena Blanc Sec
The Clos Nomena Blanc Sec was a perfect match: “Straw yellow in the glass, a bit grassy, notes of pear and apricot on the nose, dry, fruity and crisp on the palate with noticeable acidity, long finish.”
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