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Here on the Black Sea in Romania people are eating a shellfish called in Romanian "rapane" which they translate as "oyster" when I ask.

But they are elongated spiral shells which to me look nothing like the chunky flattish oyster shells in Australia. Besides which there is another Romanian word "stridie" for oyster and I can't find "rapane" in my print dictionary or any online dictionary. One person told me these are "sea oysters" as opposed to "ocean oysters". I've also been told they're not a native local species.

Here is a photo of a dead rapane shell on the beach and another of raw rapane waiting to be cooked:

dead rapane shell raw rapane waiting to be cooked

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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

This is definitely a rapa whelk. These are indigenous to the seas in the far East, but got somehow imported into the Black Sea and overtook the ecosystem.

First, people around the Black sea didn't have much use for them. The waves washed the shells of dead whelks ashore and these got crafted into souvenirs for tourists. Then, people started fishing them and selling them to the Japanese, who ate them. At last, around the summer season of 2000 or 2001, restaurants along the western shores of the Black sea started offering them as food to their guests. Still, I think that much more of the catch is exported than consumed locally (but have no hard numbers for this).

Since the only people who eat them seem to be Japanese and recently also Bulgarians and Romanians, I highly doubt that they have a kitchen-specific name in English, or that you can buy them at all outside of the above locations.

Biologically, they're not related to oysters. My speculation is that innovative restaurant managers who wanted to serve them had to come up with a name which sounded like something posh (sea oyster) as opposed to one which is both common and associated with kitschy ashtrays (rapane).

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They look like a species of whelk, which is a catch-all term for sea-snails. See the Wikipedia article here.

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Thanks. I did try following articles on Wikipedia starting at "sea snail" and whelk did look the closest but Google searches for "whelk rapane" didn't give me much insight and I'm not familiar with whelk. –  hippietrail Jul 30 '11 at 13:48
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That's correct. It's a genus of sea snails called "rapana" in English. –  ESultanik Jul 30 '11 at 17:08
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It specifically looks like a veined rapa whelk (rapana venosa), which are common in the Black Sea. –  ESultanik Jul 30 '11 at 17:11
    
It turns out "rapane" is the plural in Romanian of "rapana" which may have been a stumbling block for Google. –  hippietrail Jul 30 '11 at 21:05
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