Back in the summer, in the little town of Trvého Sviny (meaning Swines’ Market to you and me) I ordered fried fish with a half a litre of foaming Budvar, my favourite Czech beer.
The fish was not defined. What fish, I inquired? ‘Just fish,’ came the reply, ‘mořský ryba’ (‘sea fish’). That’s the way it is in south Bohemia, about the most land-locked territory in Europe. They know all about river and pond fish, and they love to eat carp (especially around Christmas time). But don’t ask them to distinguish between a plaice and a lemon sole, or between a turbot and a halibut. They just know ‘sea fish’.
How very different in Dieppe, where fish of every variety abound in the sea, in the markets and on the menus. This used to be the most important fishing port of France; it is still the first port for the import of scallops (coquilles St Jacques to the French).
We have just experienced the annual Foire aux Harengs which brings thousands to tuck into barbecued herrings from the stalls along the Quai Henri IV. The herring season will be over in early December but fresh scallops will continue to be on sale here until May. After that, in high summer, comes the season of the mackerel.
All these fish, and many more including the always coveted sole, are on sale as they have been for a couple of centuries, from the stalls of les Barrières, adjacent to the now spanking new tourist office by le Pont Ango.
‘Les Barrières’ indicates a level crossing gate: there was one there when the Paris train pulled up at the old ferry port. Since 1994, the ferry port, the train, the level crossing and the gate have all gone from this place, but the name ‘Les Barrières’ still remains, along with the fish market stalls and new generations of fishermen’s wives serving from them.
It is no secret in Dieppe that the Mayor is not best pals with the President of the Regional Council, who is also head of the public company running the the port of Dieppe.
So, since 21 November, we have two fish markets in Dieppe, one defended by the Mayor and one set up by the president of the Upper Normandy region. They can, as Lucien Lecanu, responsible member on the Dieppe council for the local economy, says, be seen as complementary: the stalls of les Barrières sell fresh fish caught by the little fishing boats that go out to sea every night and the new presidential market deals with the catch from larger boats that fish farther afield.
Of course, nobody must exceed the European quotas, laid down to preserve fishing stocks.
By the way, if you want another source of fresh fish, go along the coast to the east at Le Tréport or to the west at Quiberville, where my friend Michel with the eternal sailor’s black cap puts out his net every evening. And Michel will tell you a tale or two: about fishing and politics, and about the quality of local ciders, his constant refreshment.
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