© 2009 Marica

111 – Fishy stories

Food businesses of one kind or another have been a signature trade of the few members of our family that immigrated to New Zealand. My father has worked as a fisherman, a restaurateur, a fishmonger, and as a chef (although in those days he would have been considered a cook).

My early years were spent living in the back of a fish and chip shop owned and operated by my parents. This thriving business held the key to my survival when I first started school. As a five year old I had everything going against me –  a foreign (and unpronounceable) name, I couldn’t speak English and I had no kiwi friends to stick up for me. One thing spared me from ongoing regular torment – my parent’s fish and chip shop. Kids at school thought if they were nice to me they might be able to get some freebies and occasionally they did.

My father and mother worked very hard and very long hours in that shop. Their work was demanding and physical.  There was the early morning trips to the fish markets. Nothing came pre-prepared in those days. They peeled potatoes, cut them up into chips and cooked them. They filleted their own fish. They cooked the crayfish in the big copper in our laundry out the back. Oysters came in sacks and they all needed to be shelled. My parents couldn’t stand to wrap the cooked fish and chips in old newspapers as was the usual practice. Instead they used clean, unprinted newsprint paper.

My parents fish and chips were highly sought after – they were the best! Despite both fighting various illnesses and having to care for their young daughters, nothing ever prevented them from delivering the best possible quality food and service to their adoring customers. I was reminded of this years after my parents sold their shop when people kept coming up to me to asking if I could convince them to come back to the business.

Even though I was very young at the time I have many memories of living in that home attached to my parent’s business. I learnt from an early age the value of the work ethic. My parents lived and breathed it.

My family comes from the coastal township of Tucepi in Croatia. Fish has always been a staple food for the people of this area and this tradition did not change when they moved to live on the other side of the world. Fortunately New Zealand is a Pacific Island – we are surrounded by sea and fish is plentiful. Many Croatians who immigrated here became involved in the fish industry and this is still evident today.

Even with time some things don’t change. My mother and father still prefer to buy their fish whole, and direct from the fisherman if at all possible. My father is an expert filleter of fish. Both my parents cook a variety of traditional Croatian fish dishes – such as juha od ribe (fish soup), brudet (a fish casserole), or pecena riba (baked whole fish) – like master chefs.

My parents are fussy about their fish. They know just by looking at it how fresh it is. Me on the other hand, I’m a novice in this regard although my sense of smell tells me a lot. I have no idea what to do with a whole fish and would avoid having to cook one. I look at the head and the eyes and I feel sad. Gutting a fish is not something I could easily do either. Give me freshly filleted fish to cook and I’m happy.

Being able to buy freshly caught fish direct from the boat at the waterfront this morning is something I am very grateful for. Nothing beats cooking with, and eating, fresh fish.

03. Every day is an opportunity to reflect on the past.
29. Every day eat, drink, rest, work, exercise, play, love, create for your own good. And the good of others.
44. Every day remember how far you have come.

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