Walking the Walk

Fresh Catch at La Boqueria Mercat Carb-overloaded from tapas, paella, pasta, risotto and oh-so-much bread, I’m craving fish. Once we decide to cook in, Amanda and I happily head to the market.

As I’ve written before, I love the freshness, authenticity and intimacy of Spain’s market culture. Far from the glossy, sanitized and packaged world of my “neighborhood” Publix, Barcelona’s markets remind me where food comes from and what it really looks like before it’s transformed into the stuff I usually buy at the store. One of my favorite things at La Boqueria is the fresh seafood tables, piled high with shiny, bloody, sometimes smelly sea creatures, many of which I don’t recognize despite the fact they’re completely intact and often still alive.

Salmon seems like a great way to satisfy the Omega-3 craving, so we decide to have broiled fish and veggies for dinner and a salmon scramble for breakfast the following day. We find a fishmonger and ask her for “quarto” of the whole fish in her display, although we’re not really sure what we’re asking for. She quickly cuts 3 large steaks and as she’s about to cut the 4th, we shout out to stop her “Tres, tres, por favor. Lo siento. Tres es perfecto!” Instead of cutting the 4th steak, she throws 3 steaks and the remainder of the bloody fish into a plastic bag and hands it to us. “Doce”, she says, handing me the bag. Twelve euros and almost half a fish is more than we’d bargained for, figuratively speaking, but that’s what happens in a language vortex – even when you get what you ask for, it’s often not what you wanted.

We leave excited, despite our slightly bruised egos. I’m buzzing on the 10 minute walk home, eagerly extolling the virtues of local farms and fishmongers and already anticipating tomorrow’s long-awaited scramble.

Back at my apartment, Amanda runs out for a bottle of wine and I open the bag of fish. The steaks are still connected on one side by slick, iridescent skin and gills hang off the bloody body, near where the head has been severed. I pause for a minute but, not discouraged, take a breath and bring my laptop into the kitchen where I search YouTube with the keyword phrase: “How to Cook Salmon”. The results page returns a 3 minute video, which I start to watch as I pour the last of the vino tinto on top of my refrigerator.

Immediately, I realize my mistake. Its shocking, really, to think I could watch someone cut and bag a whole fish right in front of me and never think of the obvious fact that fish are full of bones. Shocking, but true. Less obvious, but just as important, is the fact that a fish cut into steaks is basically impossible to filet after the fact.

I guess that’s one of the great and challenging things about new experiences: they’re often lessons in humility. And so it is with this experience, from the shopping and the realization that scales and gills and spinal columns are less than romantic (not to mention difficult to cut through without a sharp and proper knife) to the slow, tedious process of picking bones out of delicious and perfectly broiled salmon steaks to the much-more painful and mood-altering attempt the next morning to filet the uncut salmon, which eventually leads me to abandon the kitchen in disgust, leaving Amanda to rescue breakfast.

The experience was humbling for sure, but surprisingly reaffirming at the same time. There’s something terribly wrong with my own ability to be so disconnected from something so obvious as fish bones. Without the skin and bones and blood and guts, its easy to forget much of our food comes from real, living creatures. I vow to visit the fishmonger on my next trip to the market. In the meantime, I will practice. Pot vostè si us plau el filet de peix?