It’s one of the great levellers, going to your local fish shop a couple of days before Good Friday, to stock up on fish, mainly because it’s one of the great food traditions in our country that transcends culture, custom and class.
Yes, of course it’s rooted in quasi-religious symbolism. But, we’re all here, white, black, Indian, coloured, African, European, Christian, Muslim, agnostic, men, women, rich, poor. Standing in a long queue.
Some of us noisy, talking to each other about the weekend ahead, preparations still to be done, because it’s more than just another dish, it is a religious event. (At least that’s what we tell ourselves.) Others quiet, perhaps thinking about a time in an old world or life when this season could not be complete without a visit to the fish market, or at least digging out last summer’s catch from the ice box.
Others, even quieter, looking at the special Easter ”discount” price and wondering how we’ll make the rands stretch, so that we can still use the big bowl for the pickled fish and not have the visitors think that times are tough.
Class tension simmers slightly when it seems the fish sellers are not treating us all the same, equally. “Hey, nei, nei, take from that tray. Why you give her the big fish and you give me the small cuts. Our money’s the same.”
But the rest of us know you’ll find one in every fish queue – the troublemaker. Sy hou vir haar wie but you wonder how her pickled fish tastes when she’s at home.
Heck, there’s Farouk. It must be an embarrassing come-down for him to stand here in the queue with the rest of us. Not because he’s Muslim or a man. But he’s a weekend fisherman, standing on the rocks at Schoenies, hauling them in – or so he says. And then, the biggest fish-eating binge of the year, his wife doesn’t trust him to bring home the goods. Go to the docks and buy maasbanker, she says. So, here he stands.
Finally, I’m out of the queue. I’m wondering if I should go for the hake or the maasbanker. A friend pickles kingklip, another sole, but that seems extravagant, not that there’s much difference in price between hake and sole this time of the year. I hope the car survives the ride home with this year’s load. Last year, I drove with the windows open for two days to get rid of the smell.
I’m lucky to be driving. Those darn taxi drivers won’t pick you up if you’ve got a parcel of fish that isn’t wrapped properly. Eish, it’s worse with the long-distance taxis if you’re going home from the city for “Easters”.
A Dutch visitor from afar asked a friend with a habit of ‘always having the perfect solution for the worst problem’ if she could take home a parcel of her home-made pickled fish. Of all the things the visitor could have asked for out-of-Africa. But, no problem, said my friend, she merely asked her local butcher if he could vacuum pack the goodies for the long haul flight. The pickled fish was served fresh in Holland after surviving 15 hours of air travel without irritating fellow passengers.
It’s the kind of innovation you wish your other friend in Cape Town would have taken to heart before thrusting a bunch of ”fress (sic) snoek” in your face just as you are about to pull out of his driveway at the start of an 8-hour road trek back to the Eastern Cape after “Easters”. You realise you’re going to have to squeeze another hour off the journey to try to protect the inside of the car. Even then, that fish smell’s going to hang in the car for at least another week.
So much for thinking you’ve made it past Easter and don’t have to worry about the great “fish trip” until next year.
- From Easter 2005