This dish is a riff on a classic from the Deep South of America, more specifically the Carolinas, where the oysters are plenty. This dark oyster soup relies heavily on sesame seeds, which came to the southern parts of America from Africa, where they are known as benne. Benne has undergone some change from its original form to make it more suitable for use as oil, and was more commonly used with a brown husk similar to that of rice, prior to polishing. The sesame seed we know today is a more processed product, with a more subtle flavour, that is used in salads, breakfast cereals and many other dishes.
Oysters were once a staple protein, closer to how we use beef today. The very bedrock of Manhattan is oyster shell. And in colonial times and even earlier, Australia has relied upon oysters more than its current use as a delicacy. I love these seemingly humble recipes of stews and soups that depict early life in the regions we now see as cities.
Oyster soup as a meal seems to have fallen out of favour mostly because of a linked perception of harder times. This is similar to the way in which offal has given way to a preference for finer cuts of meat. But there is a particular sense of luxury that comes from oysters infused with the nuttiness of sesame seeds and the beautiful savoury notes of thyme and celery. They elevate it to a truly decadent dish. Served with staples such as steamed rice or crusty bread, a greater lunch I cannot imagine.