A couple times a month, my parents will go to the Chinese supermarket 99 Ranch Market and lug back a live lobster. It will sit in the car in a plastic bag with the rest of the groceries. But unlike the rest of the groceries, the lobster is still very much alive.
A few hours later, (my dad does the slaughtering and my mom the cooking) the crustacean is on the dinner table, freshly steamed and bright red with a small saucer of Kewpie mayo on the side for dipping.
Lobster is beloved by the Chinese and is especially popular in southern China, as well as in neighboring Taiwan. In Mandarin, it's called long xia ??, which means dragon shrimp.
In China, spiny lobster was the most popular crustacean variety up until five years ago, when demand for international lobsters suddenly skyrocketed. By 2010, there was exponential growth of live lobster imports internationally. It went up 400% to $1,308,401 from $74,651 in 2008 and then to almost $3 million in 2011. Maine lobster, in particular, became extremely popular and beloved for its softer meat and finer flavor. And according to BBC News, for some lobster retailers in the United States, Chinese New Year has become the busiest day of the year -- even busier than Christmas Eve.
At Los Angeles Chinese restaurants, the lobster is decidedly American-born, usually of the Maine variety. They're huge and cost more than $80 for a plate. You can find it on the menu at most Cantonese seafood restaurants in town, plucked straight from the tanks and sautéed immediately in a frenzy of aromatics.
Here's a guide to the different lobster styles that can be found in Chinese restaurants around the greater L.A. area:
With Mayo: Cafe Fusion
Cafe Fusion has become a recurring family favorite. It's where we go for special occasions and reunion dinners. The name is deceiving -- it's by no means fusion at all. Cafe Fusion is entirely Taiwanese and is one of the higher-end Taiwanese restaurants in town. While most Taiwanese restaurants in the area specializes in small eats, Fusion does not. It's family-style. The star dish is almost always the $100 lobster salad: drizzled with Kewpie mayo and paired with slices of seasonal fruit. Lately, it's been mango and apple slices. 510 E Live Oak Ave, Arcadia, CA 91006
Classic Chinese Lobster: New Port Seafood
The New Port brand has long been the gold standard for elaborate Cantonese/Southeast Asian seafood in Southern California. Chef Ly Hua opened the very first location in Orange County in 1988, and eventually opened two other restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley. Last year, opened a location in Beverly Hills. The menu is a mixture of Chinese, Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Thai elements. The House Special lobster is the main draw: it's sautéed with garlic, chilies, scallions, and clarified butter. 50 N La Cienega Blvd Suite 130, Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Lobster Sashimi: New Bay Seafood
New Bay is a well-regarded Chinese seafood powerhouse in Alhambra serving up all the typical classics. Lobster is done nine ways on their menu, but of note is the lobster sashimi. This delicacy has Japanese origins, but is adopted and embraced by the Chinese. The lobster used for the sashimi comes from Europe. 203 W Valley Blvd, Alhambra, CA 91801
Photo by Flickr/wwny
Cheese Lobster: New Bay Seafood
This isn't on their menu, but you can request it. The lobster is baked with butter and cheese, which adds an extra touch of luxury to the already-pricey crustacean. This is a common method of preparation in Malaysia and in vogue in China in recent years. The cheese is baked to a golden brown color. 203 W Valley Blvd, Alhambra, CA 91801
Minced Garlic: Capital Seafood Arcadia
Capital Seafood in Arcadia has six different methods of lobster preparation, currently at $14.99 a pound. The steamed lobster with garlic is a simple option for those who don't like the chile-and-pepper-heavy sauce that's typical in most House Special lobsters. Garlic is chopped up and wok-fried with the lobster. 333 Huntington Drive, Arcadia, CA 91006
Black Soybean Sauce: Capital Seafood
If the garlic sauce isn't your thing, black bean is another popular seasoning. Capital Seafood does a solid version smothered with fermented black soy beans. Fun fact: black soybeans are the oldest-known prepared food made from soybeans; the first record of it existing dates back to 165 BCE. 755 W Garvey Ave., Monterey Park, CA 91754
With Garlic Noodles: Boston Lobster
Boston is the current darling of the San Gabriel Valley Chinese seafood scene. Rumor has it that the former executive chef of New Port Seafood opened up Boston, bringing with him his customers. The daily lines out the door are proof. The crustacean isn't cheap though. Sautéed with garlic and pieces of jalapeño, it rings in at $15.95 a pound and if you want garlic noodles with it, that's an extra $5. 727 E Valley Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776
With Egg Noodles: Spring Bamboo
Spring Bamboo does lobster over buttery yi mein, which is also known as egg noodles or e-fu noodles. It's cooked with corn starch flavored with chicken stock and just a dash of scallions. The seasoning on the noodles is light so it absorbs the flavor of the crustacean. 1271 S Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA 91007