After 10 years of being confined to Brussels’ eateries, the whole of the country is now joining in the annual Atlantic Canada Lobster Festival, which celebrates the taste of new season lobster.
The nearly 50 restaurants participating in the feast have all designed a menu around the delicacy, sometimes replacing the starter with Canadian scallop. Lobster may be the unifying theme, but restaurants range from traditional bistro and seafood to Italian, contemporary and gastronomic.
In Brussels most of the special meals are to be found in the former fish market area of Sint-Katelijneplein and Vismarkt, while in Flanders they are spread along the coast and in and around Ghent and Kortrijk.
Chefs have free rein to exercise their creativity, and diners can expect a diverse array of dishes – from minimalist preparations that allow the distinctive flavour and texture of lobster to sing to playful associations and fusions that seek to surprise.
Despite a recent survey that revealed a Flemish preference for prawn over lobster, each year Belgium imports one million live lobsters from the fishery fields of the Canadian Atlantic, making us the area’s top European customer. The crustacean is Canada’s culinary ambassador and its largest seafood export. A traditional fishing industry that originated with the spearing of swarms of lobsters by native Americans has been transformed into a high-tech business that provides live and frozen lobster worldwide year-round.
Investment in the fisheries of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia has created inshore seawater holding tanks, ensuring a continual supply of fresh “wild” lobster. Tight regulations over size and the harvesting of egg-bearing females and soft-shell lobsters reinforce the claim that this is now a sustainable industry. With the cold, clear waters of Canada responsible for half the world’s consumption of Homarus americanus, this had better be the case.
New season lobster is the spring harvest of the hard-shell invertebrate when its white meat is at a premium. In Canada, in more plentiful times, this was pauper’s food. A school lunch of lobster sandwich was to be derided. Even now, a seasonal “lobster boil”, with lobster served only with melted butter or chips is culinary practice in the region – almost a sacrilege to European palettes.
Atlantic Canada Lobster Festival
15 May to 15 June