Addicted to novelty since 2001

The Fish Man Doesn’t Come When It’s Windy

Last week we were shopping in the market square in Rabat, and happened upon a fish seller (not, as far as I could tell, that kind of fishmonger). We weren’t in the market for fish that day, but we asked when he was there. “Tuesday to Friday”, he replied.

I returned last Tuesday, and he was nowhere to be seen. I tried again today, and there was no sign of him again. What gives?

I asked one of the vegetable sellers nearby. She told me that “he doesn’t come if it’s windy”.

“Ah,” I said, knowingly, “thanks.” I’m still not sure why the wind determines his operating hours, but I must assume that the fishing is lousy when the wind is blowing.

There are thousands of peices of cultural data like this that you get to wrestle with and learn when you live in a new place. I find it to be one of the great joys of living abroad. Just think how triumphant I’ll feel when I actually get my hands on some fish.

Mind you, then I’ll have to fillet it. I’ve been collecting a few bookmarks on that subject.

8 Responses to “The Fish Man Doesn’t Come When It’s Windy”

  1. Jacques Rene Zammit

    You assumption is correct. I would assume that the veg vendor literally translated the reason why the fisherman would turn up.

    Have you tried the Gozitan Cheeselet yet? Gbejniet. Opposite the fish vendors stall in the same square you should see this corner shop selling all sorts of excquisite marmalades of fig, prickly pear etc as well as the best honey that money can buy, dried tomatoes etc…

    and Kinnie of course!

  2. darren

    Jacques: We think we’ve been there. Do they sell vegetables as well, or just the fancy stuff?

  3. alexis

    So that’s why it’s hard to find fish in Northern Alberta. The wind keeps them away!

  4. Jan Karlsbjerg

    In Hong Kong the university staff restaurant occasionally changed its menu because of the weather. When a typhoon was expected, all the boats were inside the harbor, and there was no fresh fish, only shrimps and other frozen goods.

  5. James

    Re: filleting. As the guy who fished with you last year, I feel I bear some responsibility in the matter. So here’s a quick summary of what I have learned.

    1. Get a good, sharp knife with a thin blade. Love the knife. Don’t use a kitchen knife, use a filleting knife. Sharpen it with a good steel or ceramic sharpener each time you use it. Clean it well. Along with your hands, it’s the only tool you need.

    2. Get to know your fish. Each fish is at once different anatomically, which, I suppose, goes without saying, but is also very similar anatomically. The fish merchant you’re buying from, get him to show you how to clean the fish. He’s your expert. I’d even consider bringing a cutting board (a big cutting board, get a big working space!) and your knife to his stand to clean the fish while he watches. What? He’s not going to show you? He will if he wants to sell you more fish.

    3. Always cut away from yourself — body and hands. That sharp knife blade will have to cut bones, flesh and skin, in the fish, that is. It can jerk and move in unpredictable ways, so make sure that whatever cut you’re making, if the blade comes loose you don’t lose something.

    4. Fins are anchored by bones. Wherever fins occur you’ll have to cut around them. Fins are also very sharp if touched from the wrong angle. They’ll leave little cuts in your hands.

    5. Scales need to be cut at the right angle to penetrate and not dull your knife. Cut against their grain to slice between them.

    6. Bones provide your guidance. Different bones have different weights. You cut against them or through them to fillet the meat. You cut through them to steak the meat. They also provide great purchase points for the hand you use to hold the fish steady.

    7. The fat in fish is throughout the meat in oil and concentrated just under the skin. So when skinning fish, try to get very close to the skin. Fat = flavour.

    8. Cleaning fish is hard on your hands overall. You’ll have little knicks from scales and fins and the slime from their skin might dry out your hands. Not much to be done about that.

    9. Bones are pretty self-evident in fish. Feel around and you’ll find them. Think about how they would sit in the fish and you’ll find the pattern they make and the purpose they serve. Now you know. Next time you do that same fish you’ll ace it.

    10. Many fish can be cooked whole or in large pieces and then you can extract the bones once they’re cooking (and cooled!). You can also break fish apart as you cook them — the cooked parts will break apart real easily, which is expecially good for piece of uneven thickness that will take different cooking times. Then just serve the meat and discard the bones. I did this with a ‘utility’ cut of halibut earlier this week from up around the gill plate. Beautiful meat but it took a little more effort.

    11. Are you going to make fish stock or soup from the heads, bones and tails?

  6. Jacques Rene Zammit

    Yeah. Or else there is Jacques’ method.

    1/ Ask the vendor to do it each time you buy the fish.

    2/ cook it

    3/ eat it

    simple. and saves time to enjoy gozo.

  7. Stuff the French don’t go in for

    […] But I’m interested in how you experience a new place not only in the enormous differences (People constantly use words I don’t understand! There are vineyards everywhere! It’s sunny!) but also in the small and subtle ones. I’ve written about these changes before, like how in Malta there’s an ice cream season and fish availability depends on the wind. […]

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