Thursday, 17 December 2009
Overcooked Fish at Essaouira Harbour
We traipsed around Essaouira’s fish market doing our best to avoid being covered in flying fish scales or losing a shoe in a puddle of Piscean guts. We felt a bit like Rick Stein as we tried to talk to the local fishmongers about their displays. Fish of every shape and as many sizes ranging from large to illegally small graced the counters. The best sight was a guy with no teeth tearing apart a conger eel the size of the Amazon and a low point was a man tying to sell us a school of miniature sole which should still have been swimming around in their crèche.
Most people describe the fish market as one of Essaouira’s highlights. And indeed, as a spectacle it is. But as an eating experience, please don’t get your hopes up. Rumours of the fish being exquisite are quite literally overcooked.
After bartering with our fishmonger cum Mitch Tonks we were ushered to a plastic table and served a can of Sprite and encouraged to watch our fish being cooked. We chose a medium sized sea bass, a bunch of prawns, some squid and a couple of “scampi”. As I looked on I was hoping to be impressed by their raw skill and simple cooking technique. But sadly all I wanted to do was ask for my money back, or to push the chef out of the way and take over myself.
The fish were brutally scaled and sawed in half before being salted and then blasted over coals so hot that Dante could write a novella about them. Our platter of fish arrived burnt and drier than Tennessee. A squeeze of lemon would have helped if we had some. But alas, no. A plate of prawns were better, but unseasoned and smelling richly of ammonia. Some squid was OK, but nowhere near as soft as it could have been. And our “scampi” never showed up.
I hate to write such a negative piece about this meal. But the elemental simplicity of barbecued fish is one of my favourite things in the world. We had hoped that it was going to be one of our major highlights. Maybe our expectations were too high? But is it too much to ask for them to be able to cook their amazing fish with care and passion? Rather than just going through the motions…
This is part of a mini-series of posts about Essaouira.