Fish in My Life

Icelandic Cod, One of My Favorites

Here I am, talking about food again. Today for lunch, Martine and I went to Captain Kidd’s Seafood Restaurant in Redondo Beach for a delicious fish feast. Martine had sautéed Alaskan cod while I had fish tacos.

When I was young, I wouldn’t eat any seafood. Don’t forget: I was raised near Lake Erie, the shallowest of the Great Lakes, which was badly polluted until recently. When I saw fish in their natural element, they were mostly floating in a state of advanced decay on the surface of the lake. The only other place I saw them was at church fish fries. I occasionally attended, under duress, but did not like the fish: I merely nibbled on the French Fries. (That was before I discovered what malt vinegar does to improve fried fish and potatoes.) We never had fish at home.

It was not until I came to California that I began to eat fish. I ascribe this to (1) being distantly removed from family pressures and (2) the influence of my co-workers when I began working in the computer software industry. And from eating cooked fish, it was only a small stutter-step to eating sushi. My sushi-eating reached its peak in the 1980s and 1990s, when it was most fashionable in Southern California. Now I find it too expensive, and I find that really good places with trained Japanese sushi chefs are now few and far between.

I even eat shellfish from time to time, but I find I have a curious allergy to shrimp and lobster caught in warm waters. The symptoms are like a sudden onset of strep throat pain lasting for up to two hours. When I go to cold-water places like Canada and Iceland, I have no trouble with either; and I positively love good lobster.

This past week, I’ve had fresh fish three times. Twice it was in the form of spicy fish fillet in black bean sauce at local Chinese restaurants. The Hong Kong Barbecue on Broadway in Chinatown makes a particularly tasty version.

 

Two Worlds

Koi in Mulberry Pond, Descanso Gardens

This post originally appeared in November 2008 when I was posting—briefly—on Blog.Com.

I loved this picture I shot at Descanso Gardens a couple of weeks ago. On one hand, the camera is looking at a koi in a shallow pond swimming among the rocks. A scant inch or so above his fins is an entirely different world of air and trees and birds. In one world, you need gills; in the other, either a lung or photosynthesis. Standing by the side of the pond, we can look at the fish. But does the fish look at us? Or are we some distorted image that lies on an irrelevant plane above the surface of the water? Somewhere in that world I am standing with my Nikon Coolpix camera waiting for the right moment to bring both worlds together.

As I look at the koi swimming in Mulberry Pond, I cannot help but think that the patterns they form with respect to one another as they glide by is a form of handwriting employed by the Creator. To communicate with whom? I do not understand this script, though I think it is beautiful in a fluid way. If I could understand it, would I  reach enlightenment? The camera would go back into its case on my belt, and I would reel with a weightless feeling as I was one with everything I saw and felt.

I frequently think that everything around us is a form of writing which we, alas, are too dim to understand. Perhaps, in time….

 

Fish Story

The Stefnir Preparing to Sail from Isafjördur

The Stefnir Preparing to Sail from Isafjördur

One of the stories I tell my friends about my recent trip to Iceland is that, at most of the seafood restaurants where I ate, I could look out the window and find ships of the fishing fleet. Here, I am standing outside the Cafe Edinborg in Isafjöordur, where I had the most flavorful and moist halibut of my life. Sure enough, right in front of me was the fishing trawler Stefnir ready to sail. According to a bus driver with whom I was speaking, the ship was idle for a long time because it had caught its quota of fish early and was only now ready to work on its next period’s quota. You can find out more about these quotas, which are big news throughout the island and strictly enforced, by visiting the website of the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture.

When roughly half of the gross national product is attributable to the fishing fleet, it behooves Iceland to carefully guard fishing stocks so that the tiny nation doesn’t suddenly find itself out of luck as a result of overfishing.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, Iceland actually fought several engagements with Britain because the latter’s trawlers ignored Iceland’s territorial water claims. You can read about the so-called Cod Wars on Wikipedia. In Reykjavik, I actually saw one of the Coast Guard ships involved in the hostilities (see below).

Icelandic Coast Guard Vessel

Icelandic Coast Guard Vessel

Iceland does not have an army nor a navy, but it takes its Coast Guard seriously. How else can it continue to maintain its fishing presence in the territorial waters against the encroaching vessels of other countries?

Iceland Is for Foodies

Fish is Number One in Iceland

Fish is Number One in Iceland

Fishing exports account for some 40% of Iceland’s export income and employs some 7% of the workforce. I remember riding a bus from Háholt In Mossfellsbær to Borgarnes with the first mate of a fishing trawler, who explained that he would be off for several weeks because of the rigid quota system employed by the fisheries. As soon as it was possible to go to sea without the danger of exceeding the quota, they would set sail.

Needless to say, I ate a lot of fish in Iceland, sometimes as often as twice a day. In addition to Icelandic cod, my favorite, there was ling cod, sea wolf, salt-water catfish, langoustines, mussels, shrimp, halibut, haddock, monkfish, and probably half a dozen other varieties. Since the vast majority of the population lives within sight of the North Atlantic, I could look out the window while I was eating fish and see the trawlers and other fishing vessels (such as the one above) parked in the harbor waiting for their next outing.

Unlike the United States, where seafood is usually the priciest item on the menu, in Iceland, it is usually the cheapest.

Many people don’t know this, but some fifty years ago, Iceland fought a “cod war” with the United Kingdom. It was the first country to declare an extended territorial limit, mainly to protect its fisheries from British fishing boats. Nets were cut by the Icelandic Coast Guard, and a British frigate once threaten to ram the offending ship. Fortunately, the two NATO nations avoided a shooting war.

In the end, the Brits lost, and the British fishing industry is now but a shadow of what it once was. Now all countries, including the United States and Britain, have extended territorial limits. One interesting result is the possibility that Iceland could become an oil-producing country. There is an possible oil field within the territorial limits called the Dragon Zone which Iceland and Norway are thinking of sharing, much to the dismay of the Chinese and Russians, who would like to exploit the resources for themselves.

Street Grunting

One would not think that Iceland would be a good place for what A People’s Guide to Mexico called “street grunting.” Tucked away near the old port is an 80-year-old hot dog stand called Bæjarin’s Beztu (roughly translated as “the best in town”).

They Sell Only Two Things: Pylsur and Soda

They Sell Only Two Things: Pylsur and Soda

Icelandic hot dogs are called pylsur. They are made with a combination of meats, including lamb, and are served in hot dog buns with ketchup, sweet mustard, fried onions, and remoulade, which includes mayonnaise and relish.

Generations of Reykjavík residents have made their way to Bjarin’s Beztu for a quick and relative cheap snack.

If you are in the boonies, not to worry: You can get decent pylsur at gast station roadhouses throughout the island. Also available are pizza, burgers, and fish and franskum (chips).

Skyr

Finally, there is one Icelandic dairy product that is widely available to which I became addicted, and that is skyr. While similar to yogurt, it is much creamier and richer in texture. Made with pasteurized skim milk, it can be found virtually everywhere, either plain or in various fruit flavors.

Plain Skyr. Yum!

Plain Skyr. Yum!

The above picture was taken by me on my first day in Iceland. I went into a downtown market and purchased the above tub of the ambrosial treat. You can find out more by going to the manufacturer’s website.

I don’t think I lost any weight during my recent trip, but I did have a lot of tasty and, for the most part, healthy food.