ON THE LOBSTER TRAIL
In pursuit of the freshest of seafood feasts
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