My Kiwi Neighbor: “We have a different name for that fish in New Zealand.”
Don Day: “Oh yeh. What do you call it there?”
My Kiwi Neighbor: “Cat food.”
I rarely eat tilapia. It’s not that I don’t like the taste. I just don’t like the treatment.
Because tilapia don’t get to swim in rivers or streams. Or lakes or oceans. Tilapia swim on farms. In places like the New Mexico desert. Or indoors in factories in Tillsonburg, Ontario, Canada. Or in pools in Atotonilco, just down the road from San Miguel in Allende.
There’s just no sport, no challenge, no romance in that.
A fish should be the reward for one man’s pursuit, equipped only with a pole, line, hook, bait and about three boatloads of patience. Or the bounty for leather-faced guys in sou’westers who brave raging stormy seas for weeks at a time never knowing whether their hold will be overflowing or empty.
I’ve been enjoying fish at San Miguel’s Tuesday Market for years. At first it was the fillets (still don’t know how many ells that word should have), fast fried in a light and very delicious batter. And these days it’s the whole fish so I can eat the crispy skin that I love even more than the batter. Though I still order it con pasta which is what you ask for if you still want batter.
The fish they serve at the Tuesday Market is called mojarra. And when I first started eating fish at the Tuesday Market, I went to the World Wide Web (that’s what it was called then) and checked out what mojarras were.
Wikipedia, aka she who knows all (as a Spanish-speaking woman pointed out to me it would be Wikipedio if she was male) told me that “Mojarras are a common prey and bait fish in many parts of the Caribbean, including the South American coast and Caribbean islands as well as the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic coast of North America.”
And so I ate mojarras year after year. Until this year. This was the year I remarked to the guy at the Tuesday Market, who deep fries my mojarras so well in boiling, bubbling vegetable oil, that it was amazing how much mojarras looked like tilapia. He replied, “Eso es porque son tilapia”.
They are tilapia? No, I thought, these can’t be tilapia. Because tilapia do not taste this good. So I went back to the internet and read Señorita (or perhaps it’s Señora) Wikipedia again and further down in the description, further down than my impatient eyes usually travel, there was: “Mojarra is also commonly used in Latin American countries as a name for various species of the cichlids family, including tilapia.”
My favorite cheap and cheerful fish dish in all of San Miguel was suddenly tilapia. Wonderful tilapia when it’s cooked this way. Just barely done. Still very moist. Almost a kilo, enough for two, for about $100 pesos. With nothing but a squeeze or three of lime. And a shaker or two of salt. And, like pork ribs and chicken wings, must be eaten with fingers, never with forks.
You can fancy it up all you want with spices and salsas but I can’t imagine that tilapia could taste any better. Anywhere. And if one fish is too much, take some home for the cat. Especially if they’re from New Zealand.
The seafood stand that I eat at has no official name (I asked). It’s at the far Western end of the market and right about smack dab in the middle when it comes to North and South.