Moments to savor: Cracking crabs and fighting failure

A cartoon crab is sitting on a plate with its arms outstretched. It is raining lemons.
(Lucia Marquez-Uppman • The Student Life)

If there’s one thing that I know about Maryland, it’s that Marylanders sure do love their crab. My parents grew up in Baltimore and swore that I, their born-and-raised Southern Californian daughter, would grow to appreciate this crustacean in the true Maryland spirit. Now, at the age of 20, I have to say that crab is easily one of my favorite dishes, and not just because of the taste: The eating process itself is a hands-on, immersive experience. 

Before you can eat crabs, you have to break them down. My family and I take the process very seriously; crab-cracking for us is a silent affair. We don’t want to disturb each others’ momentum, and we share a mutual understanding that our conversations will be more lively when there is fresh crab meat within our reach. 

The first few steps involved in breaking down a crab are simple. Remove the legs, separate the body from the shell, split the body in half and discard the inedible pieces. However, the next stage of the breakdown process — cracking the legs — requires a great deal of precision, and it is here where errors, and oftentimes frustration, abound. 

Here’s the thing with crab legs: To get the meat out in one piece, you need to break the leg ever so slightly so that you can pull the shell apart from both sides. However, if you accidentally snap the leg in half, extracting the meat becomes nearly impossible. You may need a mallet or even scissors to cut through the broken leg, and search for pieces of unreachable meat. In moments like these, my dad — having already started eating his pile of cracked crabs — encourages me to just try again with the next leg. I resist, but then concede. After all, there’s nothing more satisfying than reaching for another leg and handling it correctly. 

My botched attempts at crab-cracking are always followed by the most gratifying successes. I crack the leg more gently this time and uncover what seems to me like the plumpest slice of crab meat to ever exist; that first bite tastes so sweet. 

The joy of eating crabs is in the process: I love the triumph that comes from my first successful crab leg of the night, the discovery of my crab-cracking rhythm (crack, tug, eat, repeat) and even the renewed determination that comes with messing up after three or four successful runs. And when all the crabs are gone, I love the way that my family and I end our eventful meal: with lemon wedges. 

Growing up, my dad taught me to squeeze lemon juice onto my hands after eating crabs to remove the scent. But I would always take it a step further and actually eat a couple lemon wedges, too.

Now, before you question my citrus choices, let me explain. I actually appreciate lemons’ extreme tartness, which effectively cleanses the palate after a satisfying meal. When I sit down to eat crab, I struggle, I triumph, I relish in my successes and savor the victories, and then, through the lemon, I feel utterly refreshed. My taste buds are satisfied and ready for the meals to come. 

So, as college students, regardless of our seafood preferences, I believe that we can all somewhat relate to this crab-eating process. We successfully made it through the fall 2021 semester. We experienced both triumphs and failures: There were likely times when our crab legs snapped, and others when we pulled out the perfect slice. 

Winter break was hopefully a time of rest for all, and now I think it’s time to bite the lemon. A new semester means new things to learn and new opportunities to seize! As we move into the fourth week of the spring semester, I hope that we can all cleanse our palates of the fall and turn our taste buds, expectantly, to all that the spring has to bring.

Emily Kim PO ’25 is from Irvine, California. She loves baggy sweaters, YouTube karaoke and banana bread. 

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