Travel

Experiencing Shellfish Fest on Canada’s Food Island

Oyster shucking, baskets of lobster and caesars galore, Prince Edward Island’s annual shellfish festival is the event for seafood lovers across the globe

  • Nov 03, 2023
  • 666 words
  • 3 minutes
Festival guests at Feast and Frolic. (Photo courtesy PEI International Shellfish Festival)
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On your marks, get set… blades unsheathe faster than a startled herring; the crowd roars, bathed in the briny tang of saltwater. Discarded shells clatter into waiting buckets as competitors’ hands whirl with octopus-like dexterity. Stand back: this is the Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival, and the island’s finest oyster shuckers are facing off. If you’re not covered in sweat, seawater and clamato juice, you’re in the wrong place.

P.E.I. is called “Canada’s Food Island,” and come September each year, you learn why. What started off as a one-day festival 26 years ago is now a four-day shellfish extravaganza. From the open oyster bar to the endless baskets of fresh lobster, it’s an event that highlights the bounty of an island keen to share its good fortune with the world. Here’s a small taste of what the festival — and the island — has to offer.

Competitive oyster shucking. (Photo courtesy PEI International Shellfish Festival)
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Feast and frolic

Shellfish Fest’s opening night party, Feast and Frolic, is the Met Gala of the seafood world. Start your night at the “tip to tip” oyster bar laid by the super- stars of P.E.I.’s oyster industry — from Raspberry Point (try their green Lucky Limes, named for the algae that colours their shells) to Malpeque oysters (the heroes-in-a-half-shell that put P.E.I. oysters on the map at a Paris exhibition in 1900) and more. Then, sit down for a three-course feast of the island’s best offerings: mussels, wild-caught lobster and P.E.I. beef and potatoes. It’s all washed down with a caesar or three.

Best of the fest

You may have survived Feast and Frolic, but the heat is about to be cranked up. Cooks, bartenders and fishermen vie for various crowns throughout the festival, including P.E.I.’s best oyster shucker, caesar maker, potato-chowder prepper and mussel-sock tier. Best of all, the Garland Canada International Chef Challenge pits some of North America’s best chefs against each other in a Top Chef-style contest, with the winner taking home a grand prize of $10,000. Be sure to hang around after each round to try the contestants’ dishes! 

Linda Gilbert of Island Chocolates. (Photo: Sarah Davison)
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Chocolate isle

Need a sweet reprieve after all that seafood? Head up the coast to the historical fishing village of Victoria-by-the-Sea of the South Shore. The Gilbert family has run Island Chocolates for more than 35 years, and their passion for chocolate is real. Ask Linda, who founded Island Chocolates with her late husband, Ron, what her favourite chocolate is, and she’ll answer your question with another: “Well, what time of day?” Her son Eric sources beans from Ecuador, which are turned by hand into chocolate in the small factory in the back. Her daughter Emma handles coffee. Be sure to try their “factory coffee,” a warm, Belgian chocolate-lined glass filled with fresh coffee and topped with whipped cream. “You can either stir it and have a mocha,” says Linda, “or drink it and then have a pond of chocolate at the end.”

The snow crab bowl at Clam Diggers Beach House. (Photo: Thomas Lundy/Can Geo)
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Give a man a fish…

Join the more than 3,300 commercial and lobster fishers on P.E.I. Head over to Georgetown, a community on the eastern seaboard. There, hop aboard Tranquility Cove Adventures’ boat for some deepsea mackerel fishing. Whatever your group catches is filleted and grilled on board — it doesn’t get fresher than that. Fish, eat and watch as the seals sun themselves while Captain Perry, a third-generation lobster fisherman, gives the lowdown on the lobster, crab and mussel industries. If you don’t catch anything (you will), head to Clam Diggers Beach House for their incredible snow crab bowl. 

Moo-re please

On your way back to the Shellfish Festival, stop in at Cows, an island classic. Founded in Charlottetown in the ’80s, Cows serves up some of the wackiest ice cream flavours in the Maritimes, including fluff ’n udder (chocolate ice cream, marshmallow swirl, peanut butter cups) and gooey mooey (burnt-sugar ice cream, English toffee marble, caramel cups, chocolate flakes).

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This story is from the September/October 2023 Issue

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