Now an indulgent food typically enjoyed on special occasions, lobster has a curious history in Nova Scotia, Canada, where the crustacean is now fished, and relished, year-round.

In the 1800s – when the bottom-feeder was called the “cockroach of the sea” – most people turned up their noses to lobster, relegating it to prisoners and servants. Those people ate the seafood so often – several days a week – they got sick of it. Inmates protested and laws were enacted to ensure the shellfish wasn’t served more than three times a week. Even in the mid 20th century, lobster continued to be a poor person’s meal.

“If your father or mother were lobster fishermen, you went to school with lobster sandwiches in your lunchbox,” said Alain Bossé, a Canadian TV celebrity known as the Kilted Chef. “You’d do anything possible…to trade that for a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich.”

Today, faster methods of packing and shipping mean plentiful Nova Scotia lobster is in demand worldwide. Accordingly, prices for what’s now a luxury have soared. Nowhere is the shellfish more abundant or better in quality than along the province’s South Shore. Starting in scenic Peggy’s Cove, about 30 miles southwest of Halifax, and stretching westward another 150 miles to Barrington, the “Lobster Capital” of Canada, visitors can delight in lobster served in eye-popping, mouth-watering concoctions including pizza, beer and even ice cream.

This bit of North Atlantic coastline is dotted with hundreds of wharves home to lobster boats whose fishers lower their traps from November to May. In taverns and restaurants throughout the region, “fresh” is a given. Sometimes a lobster is in a kitchen within minutes of coming ashore.

That’s the case at The Port Grocer, a grocer and cafe in the tiny fishing village of Port Medway. Although lobster is served year-round, visitors who arrive during the region’s Lobster Crawl each February can indulge in lobster pizza; its oatmeal flour crust is topped with white-wine-and-garlic sauce, parmesan, cheddar and Swiss cheese, and lobster fresh off the boat. 

“It’s like having lobster linguine on a crust,” co-owner Deb Melanson said.

While most of the pizzas are sold to be cooked at home, they’re also on the menu some Fridays. (It’s a good idea to call ahead to determine availability.) 

Capt. Kat’s Lobster Shack is named for the owner's son, who died while captaining a lobster fishing boat  © Jay Jones / Lonely Planet

The cafe is at the back of The Port Grocer, an enchanting slice of small-town life that also includes a craft shop and post office. The table beside the front window is unofficially reserved for locals, including lobstermen.

“We have a really good working relationship with one of the fishermen,” said Annabelle Singleton, the other co-owner. “We just let him know when we’re going to need lobster. [He] will say, ‘I’m just going to drop it at the back door on my way through.’” 

Probably nowhere are the choices of lobster dishes as abundant as at Capt. Kat’s Lobster Shack in Barrington Passage, a hugely popular casual eatery with rustic marine-themed decor.

Opening the eye-boggling menu, first-time guests are amazed by the vast variety of items on offer. Besides whole lobster, the choices include award-winning lobster rolls, lobster fondue, lobster nachos, lobster bruschetta and creamed lobster, a local specialty that in many homes around here has replaced turkey for Christmas dinner.

Many people walk down a wooden harbourside promenade; two large boats are moored in the water, and the red, clapperboard buildings of the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic face the water.
The Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic in Lunenburg documents the history of life at sea © lazyllama / Shutterstock

While the food at Capt. Kat’s is superb, the restaurant serves as a stark reminder of how dangerous lobster fishing can be: its name is a tribute to Katlin Nickerson, the son of owner Della Nickerson and one of five lobstermen lost at sea in a 2013 storm. Katlin, the captain of the boat, was only 21 years old.

As the restaurant’s website explains, Della Nickerson “knew she couldn’t give up on life, she knew that’s not what Katlin would have wanted.”

The hardships and perils of life at sea are recounted at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, on the waterfront in the colorful village of Lunenburg. Old “salts,” those men who have retired from fishing, share their stories in a replica fishing village as well as aboard the Theresa E Connor, a vintage schooner.

Two large cans of Saltbox Brewery's Crustacean Elation Ale sitting side-by-side on a bar table.
Enterprising businesses along Nova Scotia's coastline use lobster in surprising ways © Jay Jones

Just up the road in Mahone Bay, the tap room at Saltbox Brewery is a welcome respite for both locals and tourists, who gather year-round to try beers available only on-site. They’re made with locally-sourced ingredients, including lobster.

For their Crustacean Elation beer, Saltbox brewers use whole lobsters and fire-roasted shells to infuse the flavors of the sea. The result is light and a bit sweet with a briny finish. 

Head to Nova Scotia’s oldest pub – the Fo’c’sle Tavern in Chester – for delightful dishes such as lobster chowder and lobster-and-bacon mac 'n' cheese, both particularly comforting on a crisp winter’s night.

“We only use the knuckles and claws. It’s the premium meat in a lobster,” owner Bob Youden pointed out. “Most people don’t know the good parts from the bad.”

The photographer's hand is holding a plastic cup of Acadian Maple's lobster gelato in the frame. There's a counter with a lobster soft toy in the background.
Acadian Maple's lobster gelato is perhaps an acquired taste © Jay Jones

During February’s Lobster Crawl, visitors to Acadian Maple in Upper Tantallon can sample not only maple brittle and syrup, but also lobster gelato. The unusual flavor is an ode to the South Shore’s crustacean celebration. 

At $4.99 a scoop, the curious offering is worth a taste, if only to brag about the unique experience. It doesn't taste as odd as it sounds. It’s simply vanilla gelato with small pieces of lobster – fished in nearby St Margaret’s Bay – blended in.

“It helps people to taste Nova Scotia, rather than just be aware of it,” said marketing director Donna Hatt, who helped invent the province’s newest use for lobster.

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Lonely Planet writer Jay Jones travelled to Nova Scotia with assistance from Tourism Nova Scotia. Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.

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