When I was growing up fish was my least favourite protein source. We had a mac fisheries near us, where Mum would buy sad old fish. Refrigeration was in it’s earlier days over here. The rows of fish with dead eyes and mucky scales didn't appeal. We had it in fish pie form with plenty of sauce and cheese to disguise the unappetizing flavour. Of course it travelled some distance to reach us in London, but still we could have done better. I was not impressed and although I would eat it indeed, after I was eleven, I was at a Roman Catholic convent so was obliged to eat it every Friday, I never liked it much. I’m not sure Mum did either as we ate it so irregularly.
Fish and chips of course was a different matter all together - with enough batter and deep frying all things become a treat!
It was France again that showed me the way. On a school trip to Lourdes we got delayed on our way home by a strike called by the French port workers. There would be a ferry home eventually so we were allowed, on pain of death or worse, Hell Fire if we brought disgrace to our uniform or nationality, to wander for a few hours on our own, in the village nearby.
Exciting times for us convent girls. We were almost grown up, seventeen at least, but still treated as children. We wandered, there wasn’t much to see frankly, it was a working village not really a tourist place, one which hadn’t yet climbed from the upheaval of the war.
We made our way to the strip on rather muddy looking beach, found ourselves some pebbles to sit on and watched the sea and the gulls. Watched boats coming and going, small fishing boats. Adorned with nets, masts and grizzled looking French men. They looked the same as the Cornish fishermen I knew from holidays in the west of Britain.
They built a fire on the beech and offered us lunch, not for free, but it was cheap enough and we were hungry.
I don't know what fish I ate - they had no English and our stilted French had not prepared us for fish names. Straight from the sea to the flame and onto the plate.
It was magic.
Never in my wildest dreams could I have ever imagined such a difference in taste and texture.
Never imagined a fish could rival meat.
I would have paid treble what they asked for that taste.
Indeed double, because I went back for another fish!
Later I was to discover more, on the coasts of every country I visited, endless un-named fish, cooked straight from the sea to the pan, in Greece and Turkey, the old Yugoslavia or Bangkok. In Scandinavia and Australia, indeed there I discovered just how good trout can be if it goes straight form creek to pan, no time wasted on the way. Early morning breakfast is divine, with the smell of gum-tree on the fire and freshly caught tucker on the embers.
Of course it spoils one for anything else. No matter how good the refrigeration is now, However good fish tastes now, and there is some amazing fish in the UK, there is nothing to compare with fresh from the sea. Variety? no matter what name it goes under.
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