18. Aug, 2017

Grilled fish, a Portuguese National Passion

Everyone that knows me well is aware that I travel extensively around the world and I always try to eat more fish than meat were available. It’s clear that throughout the world there are fantastic locations were one can find excellent fresh fish. But my most amazing experience was the visit I carried out at 5.30 am, together with my dear friend Eduardo ( both dressed in suits, we were going to a meeting at 10,00 am) to the Tsukiji Tokyo fish market, a “Great Wonder of the World,” Some 480 different kinds of seafood, with $14.6 million worth sold daily. Japan’s iconic fish market is still booming after 82-years. I can also mention that there are fantastic fish markets in Lisbon, Porto, Paris, Madrid, Vigo, Bilbao and many more, that have excellent fish and all kinds of seafood. But has Fernando Pessoa (a Portuguese poet, writer, literary critic, translator, publisher and philosopher, described as one of the most significant literary figures of the 20th century) used to say: that nothing made him more happier than to walk through a Portuguese fish market. It it is difficult not to agree with him, who can say that in Portugal we do not  have "the best fish in the world". Having the best fish in the world does not mean that the product of our fisheries has a higher quality than the fish product of all other seas. That is not it, because much of our fish are caught in foreigh waters, and traditionally it has always been so. It is true that the recent reduction of our fishing fleet has brought many fishermen back to traditional fishing. It is also true that the fish caught today have a high gastronomic and commercial value, with demand coming from all over the world, competently satisfied with great rigor by Portuguese companies that specialize in the transportation and distribution of fresh fish. But this is not just because in Portugal there is still a taste, a fondness and a demand for quality fish that rivals most other markets, even the most powerful ones. Portugal has a per capita fish consumption of over 55kg per year, the third on the planet. And if most of the international fish market is based on auctions, the Portuguese market is able to compete and win in many of these auctions during the summer, becoming the main destination for many of the species caught here.

The Portuguese are happy to have available excellent fish at very good prices, such as sardines or horse mackerel. The chefs of the best restaurants value the origin of the fish very much, and prefer to work with Portuguese fish, but according to fish distributers, the final customers are divided between those who decide for the price and those who choose the origin. This is also the opinion of the owners of one of the top Lisbon fisheries where, on a  good day they can sell a ton and a half of fish. Customers are interested and seek the origin, and in these difficult times they prefer to buy less, but to buy good quality . More than 30 species of all sizes, prices and origins spread over meters and meters of ice bedded counters. When the hotter weather arrives, they sell a lot more fish for grilling: fatter fish of a good size, are the most sought after. Customers grill preferably on charcoal, but can also use electric or gas grills. The sardine is a national obsession, and from June until mid-August the demand is enormous. Outside the sardine season, customers, when grilling, are very much focused on sea bass, gilt-head (sea) bream, silver or black scabbard fish, horse mackerel, Red bream etc.