The annual massive and delicious lobster migration is coming to the area once again to mark the end of summer and leave some bellies full.
Thousands of the clawed creatures will be making the journey from Maine to Long Beach, San Pedro and Redondo Beach for three consecutive weekends in September as part of those cities' annual lobster festivals.
The crustacean invasion is expected to attract more than 65,000 people altogether to celebrate and devour the fancy delicacy.
It's a big turnout of people who will be hungry for a meal that at one point in history was considered “garbage food.”
“Everyone likes lobster. It doesn't taste like any other seafood,” said Jim Hall, producer of the Port of Los Angeles Lobster Festival. “It didn't used to be like that. At one point it was served three times a day to prisoners in Maine.”
The lobster won't taste like prison food at the San Pedro celebration, which was launched in 1999 and takes place at Ports O' Call Village from Sept. 12 to 14.
The three-day festival is the biggest of the trio of lobster events and it's expected to attract about 40,000 people throughout the weekend.
Hall said approximately 30,000 Maine lobsters will be served throughout the festival. The lobster will be offered mostly traditional style — cooked and served with butter, coleslaw and potato salad — but there also will be some variety, like lobster tacos and lobster rolls.
The 18th annual Original Long Beach Lobster Festival will take place today through Sunday at Rainbow Lagoon Park. About 15,000 people are expected to attend the event at which Maine lobsters will be steamed in two kettles that can cook as many as 1,200 lobsters per hour, said Roy Hassett, the festival organizer.
“Lobster is delicious. It goes good with wine, beer and scotch. It goes good with everything but peanut butter,” Hassett said.
The Redondo Beach Lobster Festival, now in its 19th year, will close out the trio of events Sept. 26-28 at Seaside Lagoon.
It is expected to attract about 11,000 people who will consume more than 10,000 Maine lobsters, prepared traditionally and with a twist thanks to an addition this year called The Lobster Bistro.
That's where fine dining chef David Seawell will cook up dishes like lobster ravioli, lobster chowder and lobster macaroni and cheese.
The three festivals also will include live music and other activities to entertain lobster lovers.
Centuries ago, their ancestors may have turned their noses at the thought of happily gobbling down a lobster.
“Ever since the day the Pilgrims set foot in Massachusetts in the 1600s they did not consider lobster a desirable meal. They ate it because the had to, they had to survive,” said Trevor Corson, author of the book “The Secret Life of Lobsters.”
Corson is also a former commercial lobster boat crewman and has lectured about lobsters and sushi at Aquarium of the Pacific.
According to Corson, it's hard to pinpoint exactly why lobster was considered less than junk food centuries ago, but it could have something to do with looks.
“It kind of looks like a giant insect, and back in those days there were a lot of really beautiful fish to be eaten all over New England,” he said. “And (lobsters) were really big. The lobsters in those days would grow very large, so (people) were kind of faced with these huge monsters that maybe didn't seem so appetizing.”
It's unclear, however, if lobsters were ever unpopular enough to cause prison riots.
“One of the myths you hear a lot is that prisoners in New England rioted because they refused to eat lobster,” Corson said. “Neither I or any other scholars have actually ever found any documented evidence of that. But even if it is an urban legend, it does reveal a truth, which is lobster was more of a garbage food in those days.”
It wasn't until the wealthy in places like Boston, New York and Philadelphia began vacationing outside urban areas during summers in the late 19th century that they rediscovered lobster in coastal towns and that made it fashionable to eat them.
Once the railroads came it made it easier to transport live lobsters across long distances, paving the way for Maine lobsters to become a more popular food on the West Coast.
Corson said it was publishing giant William Hearst who is credited with being one of the first to bring large amounts of Maine lobsters on ice to the West when he ordered a large order for a birthday party in Colorado.
Although California has its own Pacific lobster, the Maine variety tends to be more popular for various reasons, including marketing and taste.
“Maine certainly has done a good job marketing lobster as an icon of Maine,” Corson said. The Pacific lobster, meanwhile, doesn't have the iconic cultural association that its Maine cousin does, he added.
“Maine lobster also does taste different. The Pacific lobster, the spiny lobster, does not have claws. So the Maine lobster claw meat has a particular taste.”
For Hall, part of the reason lobsters and festivals like his draw so many people is because of the experience of eating a lobster, which is much more primal than eating other meals.
“There's an intimacy in the consumption of lobster,” Hall said. “You actually have the entire animal in front of you. You have to pull the animal apart and eat it. It's not a lump of mashed potatoes or a slice of turkey. You got a task before you when you eat a lobster.”