The name oyster is used for a number of different groups of mollusks,
which grow for the most part in marine or brackish water (water that is saltier than
fresh water but not as salty as sea water). All types of oysters (and, indeed, many
other shelled mollusks) can secrete pearls, but those from edible oysters have
no market value. Oysters are best served raw in their own juices with a slice of
lemon. Oysters have, for many years, been considered an aphrodisiac.


Matsutake is the common name for a group of mushrooms in Japan. They
have been an important part of Japanese cuisine for the last thousand years.
The tradition of mushroom giving persists today in Japan’s corporate world, and
a gift of matsutake is considered special and cherished by those who receive
it. The annual harvest of matsutake in Japan is now less than a thousand tons,
and it is partly made up of imports from China, Korea, and Canada; this is due
to the difficulty in harvesting the mushrooms. The Japanese matsutake, at the
beginning of the season, which is the highest grade, can go for up to $2000
per kilogram.


Lobsters form a large family of marine crustaceans that nets $1.8 billion
for the seafood industry every year. They have a close family relationship with
fresh water crayfish. Lobsters live on rocky, sandy, or muddy bottoms from the
shoreline to beyond the edge of the continental shelf. They generally live singly
in crevices or in burrows under rocks. The most common preparation of lobster
is to drop the living creature into a pot of boiling water, which kills it very quickly.
The flesh is then served with melted butter so as to not overpower the subtle
flavor of the meat.


Second to caviar, foie gras is one of the finest Western foods available. It is
the liver of ducks (foie gras de canard) or geese (fois gras d’Oie). It is produced
by a method called gravage, which is force-feeding the animal grain via a tube
down the throat. Ducks and geese have an anatomy that makes this painless.
The liver expands to many times the normal size and contains a great deal of fat.
The texture of foie gras is very similar to that of butter with a very earthy flavor.
Foie gras is generally eaten as a raw pâté, but it can be lightly cooked to give it a
greater depth of flavor. Unfortunately, this delicacy is surrounded by controversy
and the sale and consumption is banned in some U.S. cities, such as Chicago. It
is freely available in all parts of Europe and the rest of the world.


Fugu is the Japanese word for pufferfish and is also a Japanese dish
prepared from the meat of pufferfish. Pufferfish are deadly and if the fish is
prepared incorrectly it can lead to death; in fact, there are numerous deaths
reported in Japan each year from the consumption of this delicacy. One pinhead
of the pufferfish poison is sufficient to kill a full-grown adult male human. It has
become one of the most celebrated Japanese dishes. In order to prepare the fish
for human consumption, a Japanese chef must undergo rigorous training and
certification. It is normally prepared in such a way that a tiny amount of poison
is left in the fish as the poison gives it a slightly numbing and tingling effect.


The nests in question here are produced by a variety of Swifts, specifically
Cave Swifts, who produce the nest by spitting a chemical compound that hardens
in the air. The nests are considered a delicacy in China and are one of the most
expensive animal products consumed by humans. It is generally served as a soup
but can also be used as a sweet. When combined with water, the hard nests take
on a gelatinous texture. My own experience of bird’s nest was in a pudding called
Bird’s Nest and Almond Soup—the nest was dissolved in almond milk and served
as a sweet soup. The nest tasted musty and had the texture of snot.


True Kobe beef, raised from the black Tajima-ushi breed of Wagyu cattle,
is produced only in Hyōgo Prefecture in Japan. It is bred according to secret and
strict traditions. It is fed on beer and grain and produces meat so tender and
fatty it rivals foie gras in texture. The beef can cost up to three hundred dollars
per pound. This breed of cow is genetically predisposed to intense marbling,
and produces a higher percentage of oleaginous, unsaturated fat than any other
breed of cattle known in the world. Another special trick in the production of
this meat is daily massages by the human owners. I must confess to being a
little envious!


Truffles are from the underground ascomycetes family (tubers) and
are reputed for their high prices. They have an odor similar to deep fried
walnuts, which is extremely pungent to some people, causing a reeling effect.
Interestingly, some people are unable to detect the odor of truffles (which is
possibly to their advantage!). The white truffle is the most expensive of the family.
They are generally served sliced into extremely thin slivers on top of other food
and are frequently suffused in oil for sale as truffle oil.


Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, reaching prices beyond
two thousand dollars per pound (depending on season). Saffron is the three
stigmas and style of the crocus flower. Each stigma and style must be picked by
hand and it takes thousands to make a single ounce of the spice. Brightly yellow
in color, the spice is used for coloring and subtle flavoring of food. It has a bitter
taste and a hay-like fragrance.


Beluga caviar is the most expensive food item in the world, costing up to
five thousand dollars per kilogram. Caviar is fish roe (eggs) and this particular
brand comes from the beluga sturgeon, found mostly in the Caspian Sea. It
can take up to twenty years for a beluga sturgeon to reach its maximum size
and they can each weigh up to two tons. The eggs are the largest of the fish
eggs used for caviar. Beluga usually ranges from purple to black, the palest
being the most expensive. Beluga caviar is generally served on its own on small
pieces of toast, as it needs no additions of flavor to improve it. If you have not
experienced eating caviar, when you bite down each egg pops and releases a
slightly salty-fishy flavor