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June 23, 2008

Lobster snob

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I am a snob when it comes to lobster. As a Mainer in exile, I get excited on the inside, but pout on the outside when I see it on the menu near my home or on the road (outside of New England)– especially after seeing or asking what ridiculous price it is going for. It’s actually still pretty special in my family’s home to have lobster for dinner — even though we know plenty of folks and places where we can get it for cheap and my father is licensed to have his own traps. But it isn’t regarded as a luxury food item. So, when I see a 3-pounder on a menu for $75, as I did 3 weeks ago here in Washington, D.C., I make the face that says it’s an offense that should be punishable by law and how dare they rip people off like that and who are these people who are paying exorbitant prices for something so … common?

Consider the Dungenous crab. It is the lobster of the Pacific Northwest, where I just spent a blissful 8 days exploring, eating, drinking wine and spending time with family and friends. This crab makes my eyes roll back into my head when I think about it. So sweet. So perfect. So tender. When I finally made it to Pike’s Market in Seattle, I didn’t even think about the price, just sat down at Jack’s Fish Spot and ordered one. When told they didn’t have beer, I ran off and bought a 24-ounce Red Stripe at the local store, came back, drank it and spent the next few hours delighting in eating with my hands.

This crustacean needs nothing. No butter. No lemon. These were left untouched. Only beer, which I gladly shared with my new counter friends, as did they in kind.

And it hit me — this is what excites people about lobster. And Maine. I flew 2,500 miles to revel in getting crab all over myself and couldn’t stop smiling because it was that much of a draw. In this town with its friendly people, moody but often beautiful weather and nature everywhere (Mt. Rainier being a perfect example), I realized I could be in Portland or Harpswell or Boothbay. And that is a big part of what draws people to these states on both coasts — a heart and mind that wants to touch the earth, sea and sky all in one place.

I asked the young men manning the counter if people around there felt the same way about the crabs as I did about lobster — a sort of misplaced pride. And one of them said yes, then paused and said wistfully: “You know we don’t really get much lobster from the East Coast here, right?”

I smiled and understood. The next time I’m eating with someone who is considering the lobster — with excitement and hunger for something luxurious, exotic and tempting regardless of its cost, I will keep my mouth shut.

Jessica Strelitz is a contributing writer to Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine.

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