“My Dad would absolutely kill me if he knew about this.”
Unless you’re my father, you’re probably not reading this on the edge of your seat wondering what I’m about to confess — in a newspaper, no less — to doing last weekend.
It was Saturday night of Memorial Day weekend, and I was perched at a high-top table on the balcony of a bar/restaurant in Bar Harbor.
My buddy Todd and I had just been brought our food, which was intended less for nutritional value and more to provide something of a sturdy foundation onto which we could pour one or two (or five) more beers.
Todd, an Arizona native I’ve known for a few years, looked at me over the top of his plate quizzically.
“What would he kill you for?”
I gestured to my own meal.
“This. I’ve got Maine lobster on top of a burger, barely visible under a pile of American cheese. And I’m about to put ketchup on it. Dad would be disgusted.”
Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not that my old man doesn’t like a burger, or a beer. But he’d be drafting the papers to disown me if he knew I was treating lobster with such reckless abandon.
When I was growing up in Australia, in a middle-class family, seafood was definitely a rare luxury. December falls in the first month of our summer, so at the Crawford family Christmas lunch there was more likely to be a great big bowl of cold cooked prawns on ice, and an equally sized bowl for the shells and heads.
It took me until I was probably in my early teens to acquire the taste for seafood, but once I was there, I was hooked (no pun intended). But despite that, prawns, oysters, scallops and bug — what we call flathead lobster — were reserved for special occasions.
Even on vacations over the last few years, my intake of the red crustacean has been restricted to the first weekend in September, when I help two buddies run a seafood festival down in Providence, R.I., where I get paid for three days of backbreaking labor with all the Narragansett I can drink, and lobster rolls.
But here I am now, living in a corner of the world whose number one export by value in 2013 was lobster (there’s so much of it, y’all are sending it away!), and suddenly what was an extremely rare and expensive treat is something I can go out and get for lunch every day, if I felt the urge.
Not only that, I’m slapping a couple of slices of cheese on the stuff and eating it on a burger. I could literally have had it on anything I wanted that night: It said right there on the menu that you could add lobster to any dish for $9. Sounds like a challenge to me.
The variety of food from region to region in the United States has always been one of the things I’ve loved about this country, and certainly one of my thinly veiled excuses for coming back so many times on vacation, and wanting to travel to so many places.
I’m a bottomless pit when it comes to Mexican food, so California and even places in southern Colorado hold a place in my heart — and stomach. The South and the Midwest each accommodate my beer-drinker’s palate for deep-fried goodness, I can see the beauty in both New York- and Chicago-style pizza, and I’ve had barbecue in more different places than I can count.
Since food is such a universal thing, but also differs so greatly, one thing people inevitably ask me about when they’re getting to know me is, “What’s the food like Down Under? Is it different? Was it hard to get used to American food?” Amusingly, in 2008, the mother of a girl I ended up dating for a couple of years asked me whether we “have pizza in Australia.” Her daughter, who had studied abroad in my country the year before, was absolutely mortified.
In case you were wondering, yes we do have pizza back home, and the cuisine isn’t altogether that different. We have more Asian and English influences, through geographical location and heritage, respectively, but all in all it’s reasonably similar. In my humble opinion, anyway.
I recently joined a Facebook group called “Australians in America,” more out of sheer morbid curiosity than to connect with fellow expatriates. And while there are some interesting topics of conversation (and a considerable amount of complaining about how the U.S. isn’t like Australia — go figure), a lot of it seems to be about “foods you miss from home,” and it’s like an echo chamber. Beer brands, Cherry Ripe and Picnic (“Deliciously Ugly”) candy bars, meat pies and sausage rolls.
Every few weeks I’ll get a text from my mother or sister, asking whether there’s anything I want in a care package from home. The latter relative sent me a huge box right around Christmas that was brimming with Tim Tams — Australia’s most desired hybrid cookie/candy bar … thing — as well as chips and other odds and ends. But when I’ve received subsequent deliveries of Tim Tams, I squirrel away a couple for myself and take the rest to the office for my co-workers, under the premise that they’re low in calories because of the metric system, or something. I’d wager, though, that if I brought in a jar of Vegemite, it would be consumed with a lot less fervor.
I don’t know whether it’s because I haven’t been away from Australia for long — I celebrated six months as an American permanent resident last Sunday, as a matter of fact — but there’s just not all that many consumables I miss that can’t be replicated here.
There’s a great Maine soda company that makes a non-alcoholic ginger beer very similar to an excellent one made in my home state of Queensland, and if I can get chips flavored like chicken and waffles, do I really yearn for a variety I can only get back home?
I know there’ll come a time — probably in the height of summer — when I’ll crave a cold beer and a sausage roll one Sunday afternoon. But until then, I’m perfectly content to make do with lobstah.
Adrian Crawford is a Web editor at the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Email him at [email protected]. Maine Walkabout is published the first and third Sundays of each month. More of his adventures in Vacationland can be found at www.crawfinusa.com.