How Not to Eat a Maine Lobster
Several years ago, after a Red Sox game, a friend and I were eating prime rib at Durgin-Park in Boston, back before the place became a theme-park version of itself. Seated next to us at the long table was a tourist from Ohio, who told me he was making his first visit to New England. Naturally, he felt compelled to order the steamed lobster.
Big mistake. Here’s why:
Durgin-Park waitresses, recruited mostly from the ranks of guards at prisoner-of-war stockades in country’s that have never agreed to the Geneva Convention, do not consider educating their customers on how to eat their meals a part of their job description. Our server – her name might have been Ilsa – tossed the lobster, side dishes, and utensils in front of the Ohioan, gave a derisive snort and stalked off in search of other idiots to torment.
The poor guy stared at his plate, on which sat a hot red creature which had seemingly escaped from a low-budget sci-fi flick.
He grabbed his fork and knife and gripped them defensively.
Being psychic, I asked, “First time you’ve eaten lobster?”
Without taking his eyes off the beast, lest it go for his throat, he nodded.
“Need a little help figuring it out?”
I felt some sympathy for this hapless visitor. I mean, what if I were trapped in Ohio, faced with some traditional dish from that state, such as dandelions or parsnips or whatever they eat there (I’ve since learned that the official state beverage is tomato juice). I’d want somebody to give me a few tips (“Just dip everything in battery acid”) to enhance my culinary experience.
“You have to watch out for the poison stingers,” I said.
All the blood drained out of his face. “Where are they?” he whispered.
“The deadly one is in the tail,” I said, “but the ones they use to paralyze their prey are in the claws.”
He drew back. “Is there any part that’s safe to eat?”
“Yeah, the antennae are delicious. Just smear ‘em with butter like a biscuit, and suck on ‘em until you’re not hungry anymore.”
At that point, my dining companion interceded, pointing out that virtually everything I’d said was false. After some prompting (and some mental-health counseling), the tourist managed to get a small part of the claw meat eaten and the body separated from the tail.
“Now,” I said, “stick you finger up the lobster’s butt, and pop out the tail meat.”
He couldn’t have looked more astonished if I’d told him to get up on the table and do the funky lobster dance. He made a few fumbling efforts before, in exasperation, I seized the thing and performed the extraction.
“You just put your hands all over his meal,” my peevish companion noted, somewhat unnecessarily, I thought.
“You want me to take out the digestive tract, too?” I politely inquired of the tourist. “Some people are too squeamish to eat it because it’s filled with lobster poop.”
Before making what seemed like an unusually hasty departure, the Ohioan thanked me. At least, I think he was thanking me. The sound he made was sort of like, “Th – th – urk -- ewwww.”
I understand that since that incident, he’s never dared to venture farther east than Iowa.
I added his abandoned tail to my plate. Goes great with prime rib.
I mention all this not to disparage clueless flatlanders who make fools of themselves while attempting to eat lobster (although that’s certainly a side benefit), but rather to call your attention to how modern technology has rendered such dilemmas obsolete. If this encounter had occurred today, the Ohioan wouldn’t have needed to rely on his fellow diners for help. Instead, he’d have whipped out his iPhone and employed an app called “iLobster: Click. Crack. Eat.”
This helpful program, recently developed by two guys from Waterville, provides step-by-step instructions for dismantling (“Watch out for the stingers”) and devouring (“It’s bad form to drink the melted butter”) Maine’s signature dish. (Just for the record, if you Google “Ohio’s signature dish,” you get sites that discuss square-cut pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches.) The app is even useful to those who already know how to eat lobster, but don’t have one handy, since it provides locations of restaurants that serve the dish (although no true Mainer would be caught dead eating steamed lobster in a restaurant) and places that will ship lobster, even to the hinterlands of Ohio (“It’s alive! Kill it! Kill it!”).
I only have one problem with iLobster, which is that the photo of its creators that appeared in the Bangor Daily News shows them wearing plastic lobster bibs.
People from Ohio wear plastic lobster bibs.
When people from Maine eat lobster, they do not wear bibs, unless they have been dragged to a ritzy wedding in their one good suit. Even then, a tie will often suffice.
Otherwise, it’s strictly bibless. If Mainers have guests in the house, they sit down to a lobster feast in old clothes that are already stained with juice and butter and bits of dried shell. If there aren’t any guests, they eat their lobster naked.
Now that I think of it, that’s probably how folks from Ohio drink tomato juice.
Now that I’ve thought of that, I wish I hadn’t.
Just for the record, Maine does not have an official state beverage, but it does recognize an official state soft drink: Moxie.
Personally, I prefer tomato juice. With horseradish, hot sauce, Worcestershire, ground pepper, celery, salt, and vodka. A dash of Guinness stout helps, too. So does a little of that leftover lobster juice. Forego the dull stalk of celery and garnish with a slice of lime, plus spicy dilly beans, pickled quail eggs, jumbo shrimp, or sausages. Or all of them.
Now, there’s something worthy of being called an official state beverage.
Al Diamon spent two weeks in Ohio one afternoon. You can e-mail condolences to him at email@example.com