Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Day in the Life of a Fishmonger

Ever wonder how your fish gets from the ocean to your local fishmonger? I always have. And I finally got the chance to find out. Recently I tagged along with New Deal Fish Market's Fishmonger Extraordinaire Carl Fantasia on his daily trip to Fish Pier on the waterfront in Boston. Actually, normally Carl's father buys the fish but since he was on vacation in Italy, Carl took over the reins. Carl is a third generation fishmonger who upholds the excellent reputation his family has established by selling only the best. He's also a great sport and extremely knowledgeable. I thought I knew a lot about fish but have realized after going to his market for the past year or so, that I know nothing and he knows all.

I met him at his fish market at 9am. We hopped in his truck and headed to Fish Pier on Northern Ave. so close but in so many ways a million miles away from South Station and the Financial District. I envisioned one giant warehouse type space with all the wholesalers in their own area selling their fish. I was way off. Each wholesaler has his (I'm saying his because this business is 99.99% male) own store. Many of them are at Fish Pier but several others are in different spots along Northern Avenue. (Bet you never noticed that there are several right behind the Fleet Pavilion Concert Hall?) So you can imagine how much time it takes to go from store to store to get what you need. It took us about 2 hours! Imagine, 5 days a week, spending 2 hours shopping for fish?! I'm sure some folks are faster but Carl is very particular about the fish he buys so he takes his time finding the very best of the day.

In the course of the excursion, we stopped at one place for snapper, one place for Atlantic crabs, another place for soft shell crabs, scallops and periwinkles(!), yet another for sushi grade tuna and still another for "boo hoo," a beautiful fish - a type of tuna. What I found interesting was that the fish is not just from New England and not even just the U.S. Fish comes in from Italy, Portugal, the Carribbean. Amazing.

At each location, Carl would check in with the owners to see what they had. In some cases, the fishing boat carrying what he wanted had not yet come in. So he'd move on to the next item on his list. Walking into these places is a bit intimidating. They are all business. Get what you need and move on. They're busy people - artfully filleting fish, packaging it up, etc. No time for idle chit-chat. I just stood as out-of-the-way as possible and observed all the incredible beautiful fish. At one place, there was a whole wall of huge swordfish. An incredible site for a person like myself who is not in the industry. For Carl, it's just another day at the office so to speak.

Loading up your purchases is no easy task either. You have to bring in your own bins, shovel (yes, shovel) ice into your containers, layer in your fish and then cover the fish with ice to keep it fresh. You then need to lug it to the loading dock so you can put it in your truck. I was exhausted just watching Carl do all that hard work. I would have lent a hand but literally, I couldn't even begin to lift those things.

So next time you go to the fish market, thank your fishmonger for all the time, attention and muscle he puts into bringing you the best, most fresh seafood available.

New Deal Fish Market
622 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA (midway between Inman Square and the Cambridgeside Galleria)
Ask for Carl. Tell him Lynne sent you.


Anonymous Donna said...

Wow - buying fish is so easy, I had no idea what took place before it made it behind the counter. I have a whole new respect for these guys.

3:10 PM  

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