In the Rocky Mountains, the World is Your Oyster. Sort Of.
In China, Chinese food is just “food.” In New England, New England Clam Chowder is just “clam chowder.” And in the Rocky Mountains, Rocky Mountain Oysters are just “fried bull testicles.”
I had first heard of Rocky Mountain Oysters when I was an eight-year-old kid. “Erik, do you know what Rocky Mountain Oysters are?” an uncle once asked me at a family party.
“Bull balls. They eat them in the Rockies.”
As disgusting as it sounded, I laughed and brushed the bit of trivia off as just one of those gross-out jokes that adults told kids to be funny. I mean, really, who eats bulls’ balls? Twenty years later, I grew up (but retained my immature childish sense of humor) and discovered that other people had also heard of the alleged oysters and that it wasn’t just something my uncle made up. Funny, John Denver never mentioned them in one of his songs.
The kid in me was curious as to whether or not they really existed, and if so, to find out what they were like. Coincidentally, I was booked for a long-weekend snowboarding trip with eight friends to the Copper Mountain Snow Resort in the middle of the Colorado Rockies, just a two-hour drive from Denver (where, of course, a Denver Omelet is just an “omelet.”)
The first day, we rode the ski lifts up to altitudes of over 12,000 feet above sea level, and sped down slopes of fresh Colorado powder. If you have never been snowboarding, let it be known that it is an exhausting ordeal, even if you are an experienced rider. Riding all day sure builds up an appetite, and my party was famished for food. I suggested looking for a place with Rocky Mountain Oysters, but my traveling companions weren’t so keen on the idea. I was outnumbered eight to one and ended up going to a pizzeria/brewery in the nearby ski town of Frisco. I was optimistic in thinking that perhaps they’d have Rocky Mountain Oysters on the menu anyway. We were in the middle of the Rockies after all, and I figured it was a local delicacy everywhere. While waiting for a table, I asked the hostess about the famed “oysters.”
“I’ve lived here in Colorado all my life and I don’t know anyone that’s ever had them.”
“So it’s just an urban myth then?”
“No, they do exist. You just have to find where they are.”
I had to settle for a good, but familiar cheeseburger.
Back at our condo rental, Rocky Mountain Oysters started to become my obsession. I called up a BBQ place in the nearby town of Breckenridge that people suspected might have them, but only received a cold answering machine with no mention of oysters (or testicles for that matter). Other places I called didn’t have an answer for me either. I was beginning to believe the urban myth was just that; a myth.
Rocky Mountain Oysters
We continued the next day on the slopes. We hiked along ridges and rode down the bowls in natural alpine environments. Some of us even tried our luck in the terrain park. The tiring day inflamed our appetites again, and it was time to pick a place for dinner. Since I was still outnumbered on the dinner vote, I went with majority to a dinner reservation at the popular après ski hangout Kaltenberg Castle in the Lionshead neighborhood of nearby Vail, which was modeled after its sibling beer hall in Bavaria and served authentic German fare. I figured I would just settle for some wiener schnitzel.
“Erik! Check it out, your Rocky Mountain Oysters are on the menu,” my friend pointed out. And there it was, plain as day, under the Appetizers:
Rocky Mountain Oysters: $8.95
Never mind that the rest of the menu offered authentic Bavarian dishes, fine wines and proudly-brewed beers. They had bull testicles on the menu! The rumors were true after all!
We ordered two orders for the table since others were suddenly curious, and we eagerly awaited the “oysters” over heifeweizens and glüwein (spiced red wine served hot).
“Here they are!” our waiter announced as he brought over two platters with four pieces over a bed of lettuce on each. The Rocky Mountain Oysters weren’t round like you would think. They were sliced into flat, bite-sized pieces, breaded, fried, and served with cocktail sauce. If you didn’t know they were bull testicles, you would have probably mistaken them for chicken fingers or something. And as for the taste, you’re probably waiting for me to say “tastes like chicken,” but in fact, they taste more like fried shrimp. Then again, anything with a similar texture, breaded, fried and served with cocktail sauce has that generic fried seafood taste – which is probably why they came up with the name “oysters” in the first place.
“Look, I’m licking my balls.”
The verdict: I quite liked them. I had three of the eight pieces we were served. Some friends flat out declined it, some tried it but couldn’t get the thought of testicles out of their minds, and some enjoyed them along with me, making the obligatory wisecracks: “Do you mind sharing your balls with me?” or “Look, I’m licking my balls.” Like I said, I never really grew out of my childish immature sense of humor.
I don’t know why John Denver never wrote a whole song about Rocky Mountain Oysters, but perhaps it’s an idea for Weird Al Yankovic.