When he said “early morning” I was thinking somewhere along the lines of 4.00am like my visits to Melbourne’s fish market or the village fish stalls of Malayisa and Indonesia – thankfully however I was forgetting we are 60 miles from the coast and fish can’t swim on land (don’t start the whole mudskipper argument please!). Therefore, I rolled out of bed and headed to Santiago’s Mercado Central for 9.00am to go and talk to a few fish mongers and have a look at what types of fish make it this far inland for Santiago’s fish hungry mouths.
“Hey Gringo” was my welcome from most of the mongers I had spoken to the previous day about taking photos and having a chat (yep it’s not just a film thing, they do actually say that here!). For those I had not spoken to it was a blank expression and then back to work. Strange looks added to the knives that wave around in the air whilst they talk and gesticulate wildly did make me feel as though I was maybe slightly out of place!
Thankfully the first stand I properly braved was full of extremely amicable guys that insisted on knowing everything about me and the trip.
One thing I do always find a bit strange when I go travelling is that when I say “I’m from England or the UK” I generally recieve a “hmmm, oh”. However, if I tell them I was born in South Africa or even fib slightly and say I am from SA I get an overwhelming “Oh, really…wow!”. Is that because South Africans are rarer? Is it because the UK is boring and SA exciting…..or is it because we (the UK) once may have tried to conquer them? Who knows?
Anyway, back to the fish.
For such a large city (≈5 million) the fish market is actually suprisingly small – about 20 fish counters, each with 3 to 4 mongers busy filleting and constantly rearranging the piles of warming fish. Perhaps this is due to the costliness of fish in Chile or preference for other meat?
In total I counted approx. 30 different species of fish and about 13 of shellfish. It appears that hake (Merluza in Spanish – Merluccius sp.) is the standard white fish of the chilean diet and is abundant on all counters. I was however corrected and told that they are not the real hake but “pescadas” (a term used to describe the fillet of the small hake that is the most common fish consumed in Chile). The “real” hake/Merluzas are those from cold waters – much larger than their warm water counterparts.
Now I am not even going to pretend that a morning spent annoying fishmongers with banale questions means I know anything about the fish they serve in Santiago…However, I found this blog which from my limited knowledge appears accurate (although the prices may be a bit out) so if you are interested, why not have a look; it can also tell you more about the sorts of fish I saw today and where some of them come from.
Now, you may be thinking, this has nothing to do with small scale fishermen etc. but one of my reasons for heading to the market (apart from general interest) was to find out whether or not the mongers know:
1) where their fish come from (location and fishermen),
2) about any of the Chilean fisheries management strategies currently being used (how do you pose that one to a fish monger?!)
3) how many links (middle men) there are between the fishermen and the market, and…
4) or care about anything apart from the price that they pay for the fish on their counter.
The reason I want to know is because every man has a part to play right from the fisherman to the family buying their fish fingers in the supermarket or the guy eating a fish dish at the local eatery.
It’s important to understand the steps from sea to plate in order to see who is supporting who, who benefits, who loses and where there may be room for improvement..!