The Lobster and the Boy: In Search of Americana


Photo from Alicia

In December of 1992, my dad got posted to the Singapore Embassy in Washington D.C., I realize now, just how that singular event would shape my life. It was during the short one and a half year period that I fell in love with America. I knew that I would someday live there. Thinking back I remember watching from the hotel room, for the first time, flakes of snow drift down. They settled on the dark rooftops of downtown Bethesda, turning the urban scene into a vista of fluffy white. I remember the little creek that demarcated the boundary between my neighbor’s property; I was astounded by the lack of any sort of fencing. I was also astounded by the amount of land our house sat on, three quarters of an acre, totally unheard of in land scarce Singapore. There were deer in the morning from nearby Great Falls National Park. I remember MTV and “Saved By the Bell,” and the zillion other channels on cable. At that time, Singapore had five channels if you counted the two from Malaysia. I remember Montgomery Mall and how vast it seemed compared to the shopping centre’s back home.

I remember my first lobster. I don’t remember where I had it, probably Phillips, but I remember the thrill of having a whole lobster. The whole thing was mine, and it had claws like a Sri Lankan (Mud) crab too! Usually when I ate lobster in Singapore, they were always chopped up and served communally as is the norm in a Chinese restaurant. You don’t get the sense of abundance from devouring the magnificent creature in its shell when you are sharing bite-sized morsels with the whole table. I loved eating those whole Maine lobsters. It was one of those rare and special treats from my childhood.

Right before my dad got posted back to Singapore, my mom took a road trip with some other Singaporean ladies from the embassy to Maine. She came back and told stories of road side lobster shacks where the lobsters where so cheap you could eat to your heart’s content without feeling guilty about spending all that cash.

We flew back to Singapore shortly thereafter.

Alicia and I on the beautiful Maine Coast. Photo from Alicia

It’s August 2007 and I’m in Maine, visiting my friend Alicia. She was the first friend I met at Syracuse University almost exactly 5 years ago. We moved in different circles at school, but we were always close and even though I hadn’t seen her for over a year I still felt a special bond with her.

Rockland Lobster Festival

The other reason for visiting was the Lobster Festival held in Rockland, an hour and a half drive from Portland where Alicia worked as a producer for the local TV station. There was another reason for visiting Maine before I had to leave the States. I wanted to experience the American Summer. The summer that I had read about in food magazines, the summer of clam bakes and lobster shacks. The food and its rituals represented to me, an outsider, a part of Americana.

The Lighthouse near Portland, Maine.

The water pump at Alicia’s relative’s home.

Driving through scenic Maine, I was stuck by the natural and historic beauty of the state. I wondered to Alicia why I never visited this gorgeous state before. There were three acclaimed restaurants that I wanted to visit in Portland too, Hugo’s, Fore Street and Five Fifty-Five. Sadly there just wasn’t enough time in my four-day trip. One day when I came back to America, I won’t make the same mistake and miss out on Maine.

Love the license plate

Pies! Pies! Pies! American Pies!

I love the American Fair. I love the cotton candy, fried dough or funnel cake, grape Icees, turkey legs, sausage sandwiches and other fair food. This was my last fair and I relished in its heady atmosphere. The sun was shining and after sticking the only pin into Singapore on the map that represented where the fair’s visitors had come from, we proceeded to the line for the main food tent.

It was long.

Alicia’s Fried Scallops. Photo from Alicia

Alicia bought some fried scallops, the only seafood that she’d eat, and we shared it while we snaked closer to the entrance. At the entrance of the tent were hundreds of lobsters, cooked and ready to be eaten. I nearly creamed in my pants.

The banner right outside the Main(e) tent.

 What a beautiful sight.

Once in, I bought three lobster, corn on the cob and cole slaw, the traditional fixin’ when eating lobster. Alicia watched as I devoured my lobsters. I loved the sheer decadence of eating three lobsters by myself. After I finished them I told Alicia I wanted two more. She was in disbelief. How can you eat so many she exclaimed. I don’t know. I wasn’t hungry at that point.

My first three lobsters

She just likes to play with them, photo from Alicia

I got another two more lobsters and after eating my fourth for the day, an older lady with her two (I’m assuming) adult sons sat next to us at the long picnic table. They put their tray of delectable lobsters down, the lady reached into her bag and took out a spool of nutcrackers rolled up in paper towels. She then proceeded to peel off three of them. She had extras.

“Do you want one?”

“No thank you ma’am,” I replied.

I turned to Alicia and held up my mitts.

“Old school baby.”

I then proceeded to de-shell the last lobster with all its meat intact. I reassembled the lobster on the plate. It looked as it has just molted. I admired my handiwork for a minute before downing the lobster. I groaned. That last one had definitely put me over the edge. 

De-shelled in less than a minute

The heads of my last two lobsters, bringing the kill count to five. If I were a fighter-pilot I would be an ace. 

At the time I didn’t really know why I wanted to eat five lobsters. There was no real rationale to it. Five was a nice whole number. But now, as I’m writing this, I realize I wanted the sense of abundance I felt when I was a kid living in the States. Three lobsters would have been just right. But I wanted to more than just eat them. I wanted to gorge on them, to store it and all that it represented. And to take it with me.

What Americana means to me. Photo from Alicia

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