In pur­suit of the fresh­est of seafood feasts

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - Michele Gierck

Lob­ster, fresh from the cool North At­lantic wa­ters, cooked to its suc­cu­lent best, is now a firm favourite on menus in the east-coast Canadian Mar­itime prov­inces of Nova Sco­tia and New Brunswick. But it wasn’t al­ways that way. A cen­tury ago, the cranky crus­tacean was so abun­dant and so scorned that fish­er­men weren’t in­ter­ested and what ended up as part of the by­catch or washed up at low tide was of­ten given to the poor, whose chil­dren, out of shame, would try and con­ceal the con­tents of their lob­ster sand­wiches from cu­ri­ous class­mates. Be­ing a lob­ster lover, I can barely wait to taste this lo­cal spe­cial­ity as I set off on a two-week self-drive me­an­der around The Mar­itimes with my hus­band, a fish sci­en­tist who in­sists on the fresh­est seafood, cooked to per­fec­tion.

We have dis­cov­ered, when trav­el­ling around is­lands or coastal des­ti­na­tions, that some of the best places to par­take of fresh seafood are in sim­ple set­tings.

Our first plate of lob­ster is served at An­chor Bay Restau­rant in Pleas­ant Bay, on the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Is­land, Nova Sco­tia. It’s a ca­sual din­ing spot, which I ap­pre­ci­ate be­cause, quite frankly, it’s dif­fi­cult to ap­pear well-man­nered when ex­tract­ing lob­ster meat from its shell, en­sur­ing not a sker­rick of ten­der white meat re­mains in any of those long limbs.

We might have cho­sen The Mar­itimes for its nat­u­ral scenery, hik­ing, the chance to visit Hal­i­fax and the prom­ise of a re­laxed hol­i­day, but I’m soon on the hunt for our next lob­ster meal. The fol­low­ing day around lunch time, we dis­cover the unas­sum­ing Chow­der House, at Neil’s Har­bour on the Cabot Trail, where we sit in­doors at pic­nic ta­bles. Out of cu­rios­ity I or­der a lob­ster sand­wich, as well as seafood chow­der. The sand­wich is a bit bland, so per­haps those poor chil­dren a cen­tury ago had a point, but the chow­der is sen­sa­tional.

Two days later, af­ter vis­it­ing Peggy’s Cove, a quaint lit­tle fish­ing vil­lage with a fa­mous light­house, one of Nova Sco­tia’s must-sees, we head around Ma­hone Bay to Lunen­burg. One of only two ur­ban UNECSCO World Her­itage sites in North Amer­ica, the pic­turesque old town is re­plete with brightly coloured build­ings, some Cape Cod style, oth­ers Ge­or­gian or Vic­to­rian vin­tage.

Saun­ter­ing along Mon­tague Street, pass­ing arty sou­venir shops and seafood restau­rants, it’s worth look­ing up. Hang­ing from poles are not just street lights but colour­ful metal or­na­ments shaped as cod, salmon and, of course, lob­ster. Docked at the wa­ter­front in Lunen­burg are sail­ing craft and fish­ing ves­sels.

Be­side the har­bour there’s a Rose Com­pass made out of gran­ite col­umns with the names of all those mariners whose lives have been claimed by treach­er­ous At­lantic seas since 1890. There is space for more names.

We are here in July, mid­dle of the peak sea­son, which runs from May to Septem­ber, with­out a reser­va­tion, and ho­tels are heav­ily booked. It’s a re­lief to se­cure lodg­ings in the old-fash­ioned, un­ren­o­vated Top­mast Mo­tel.

Just be­fore tak­ing the key to our room, the re­cep­tion­ist asks if we like lob­ster. Oh yes. So she sug­gests we pur­chase it di­rectly from a lo­cal fish­er­man, and points us in his di­rec­tion.

Driv­ing away from the old town, we soon spot a few cubby-sized bright yel­low sheds with blue trim and the sign: Corkum’s Is­land Mus­sel Farm and Fish Shop. Lob­ster is only $C8.95 a pound (about $20/kg). Dale Corkum, a lob­ster fish­er­man whose fam­ily has fished the At­lantic for gen­er­a­tions, shows us one, two or three pounders (about 450g, 900g and 1.4kg). He sug­gests a good feed would be a cou­ple of two pounders, one each. For an ex­tra $C1 a pound, Dale says he is happy to cook them but they’ll be steamed rather than boiled and “bet­ter that way”. By 5pm, we are in pos­ses­sion of four pounds of cooked lob­ster, and a bot­tle of wine. We set the ta­ble in our room back at Top­mast Mo­tel, and on a long sum­mer evening, with mar­vel­lous har­bour views, we crack the shells. The meat is de­lec­ta­ble, just as Dale said.

Next stop, in neigh­bour­ing New Brunswick on the Bay of Fundy, is the small town of Alma, gateway to Fundy Na­tional Park. But it is not our hik­ing ad­ven­tures or even the amaz­ing mas­sive tidal changes, fun as they are to photograph, that re­main most me­morable.

Down a side street, back­ing on to the beach, is Alma Lob­ster Shop, of­fer­ing the fresh­est fare from The Mar­itimes, in­clud­ing lob­ster, New Brunswick snow crabs, mus­sels from Prince Ed­ward Is­land, as well as scal­lops and seafood chow­der. It’s time to break the lob­ster cy­cle so we choose chow­der and snow crabs, and de­bate whether the New Brunswick va­ri­ety could even be tastier than lob­ster. On the morn­ing of our de­par­ture, we wait for Alma Lob­ster Shop to open. A boat loaded with scal­lops has just come in af­ter a week at sea. All this amaz­ing seafood and a lo­cally caught lob­ster costs about the same as hum­ble fish and chips back home in Aus­tralia.


Pic­turesque Lunen­burg, Nova Sco­tia, above; Alma Lob­ster Shop, in The Mar­itimes, top right; tast­ing lob­sters, above right


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