Monday, September 7, 2009

Jamaican fish story

I know Jamaicans who smuggle cooked fresh fish, fruit and other items into the U.S. when they return from visiting their beautiful island, and who can blame them? You'd be hard-pressed to find decent breadfruit or custard-like sweet sop or the small, sweet fish they enjoy there in New Jersey or New York markets.

During my visit to Jamaica at the end of August, I stopped at some shacks at the side of the road less than a mile from my hotel, RIU Montego Bay, to see what fishermen were selling. The fish hung from wood slats on the table where they were gutted and cleaned. I was told that around noon, two of the shacks would open to steam fresh fish for customers.

The biggest fish was a barracuda, which I have enjoyed in Cuba at the home of a spear fisherman who rents a room to tourists. Also displayed was king mackerel, a favorite of many Jamaicans that, unfortunately, contains a lot of mercury.

I was told the others, which were much smaller, were jack, doctor fish ("see the needle"), parrot fish and goat fish. All the fish was selling for $200 Jamaican dollars per pound, or about $2.35 U.S. At the hotel, I was served what sounded like banga Mary. One of the fishermen at the side of the road said it was an ocean fish.

I didn't see any ice to keep the fish fresh. The fishermen said they can hang the fish in the August heat and humidity for two to three hours. I have my doubts, and probably would not buy fish there unless I saw it being hauled out of the water minutes before.

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