Is £2700 for a kilo of lobster a bit pricey? Not when it’s a very special shellfish finds, Nick Harman.
The car radio suddenly yells to life with an important traffic update. ‘A main road is blocked, cars and lorries are backing up fast, delays for the morning rush hour will be enormous’, says the announcer. My driver turns the radio down as he explains what’s happened.
‘Someone’s hit a moose,’ he says cheerfully as he swings off the main road to find a new route. Such encounters, which often leave both the national symbol of Sweden, as well as at least one of its citizens, dead are not uncommon in this country. So much so that the national carmaker Volvo is designing systems to spot moose early and warn drivers before they collide with an animal weighing over 600 lbs. and which tends to come through the windscreen at speed when its spindly legs are swept from under it.
Our goal this morning, as dawn slowly breaks over Western Sweden, is to get to the fish yards to see another Swedish symbol, but this time see it go to market rather than over the bonnet. September 24th is the opening day of the new lobster season and by tradition the very first kilo box of lobster, randomly selected from all the lobsters caught since the season began at midnight, is auctioned for charity. The fish sheds all look the same in the semi dark and the driver slowly circles trying to find the right one.
Then we spot a gang of men toting tripods and camera gear and quickly follow them. Swedish national TV and press are all here to record the auction and together we press into the big shed where the temperature is close to freezing. Crates and crates of crayfish are everywhere, fantastically fresh and grown slowly in the cool seas around the coast, they have a superb flavour.
Boxes of crab claws also sit around stacked on pallets, the other crab components presumably tossed over the side of the boats before they came in. And then there are the lobsters, black and shiny and waving their feelers as if trying to pick up a faint radio signal.
Things haven’t yet got started so we get coffees from a stand outside and Johan Malm, chef and owner of Restaurang Gabriel one of Gothenburg’s best seafood restaurants, buys possibly the most revolting looking burger I’ve ever seen and I live in London. With his enormous beard, drainpipe jeans and with a filthy burger crammed in his mouth he could be almost someone from Hoxton. He’s almost certainly not the only chef here, the auction for the first lobster is a bit of fun but after that the serious business begins as buyers vie to get the new live lobsters bought and back into their cars and off to the pot in Gothenburg and further afield.
The sight of the cameramen hoisting their gear to their shoulders and sound recordists waving fluffy things on sticks indicates things are about to kick off. It’s all over in seconds, the auctioneer fires out bursts of Swedish, bids are made and then it’s done. Per-Arne Korshag, owner of a smokehouse in Falkenberg, is the proud owner of possibly the world’s most expensive kilo of lobster at over £2500. Mind you last year it went for £10500, so maybe he clawed himself a bargain.
The TV crews crowd around him like feeding piranha and I get a translation of what he says. Basically he is going to give one of the two lobsters to the physician who successfully treated him for cancer, and the other to the man who lent him his business start-up money thirty years ago. The auction continues with the lobsters now fetching a more digestable £22 a kilo. I wander back outside to find the driver and get back to Gothenburg for breakfast. As we zoom down the road I keep a wary eye out for moose.
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