A fishy story

A fishy story

Aylin Öney Tan - aylinoneytan@yahoo.com
A fishy story It is all about a shift of dates. The idea came upon Charles IX, the King of France, to announce the start of the New Year on Jan. 1 in an attempt to unite all New Year’s celebrations on a single day. Before that, each region had a different date, usually falling in March, mostly at the Feast of Annunciation on March 25, and April 1, being the octave of the festival, marked the end of the celebrations. The new decision was announced by the Edict of Roussillon on Aug. 9, 1564. The next year was prone to catastrophe; changing dates on the calendar could be easy, but the shift of customs would not be that swift. 

Rumor has it that the origin of April Fool’s Day lies in that dramatic calendar change. Next year, some people continued to have their New Year on April 1, while some adopted themselves to the new date, but with old customs. One custom to celebrate spring is to dress in new clothes, preferably light and white. White symbolizes purity and it is the best color to show cleanliness. However, in the midst of winter, to wear spring clothes just seemed foolish, so the ones who did so were tagged as fools; so were the ones that went festive on April 1. So, according to the general belief, that is how April Fool’s day began, but the relation of the day to fish might be fishier. 

There are many spring rituals related to spring festivals. Spring-cleaning is another essential element of welcoming spring. In all cultures from China to Europe, the foremost essential prerequisite preparation for spring festivals is the cleaning of the house and the kitchen. Likewise, before Easter the spring cleaning must be complete; in Jewish tradition it is taken way more seriously, the whole kitchen and house must be devoid of all crumbs and remains of all food that are likely to ferment. Of course Chinese spring-cleaning before their New Year, which takes up to fifteen days prior to the Spring Festival, which happens to also be also the start of the New Year, is legendary. The Iranian Nowruz is built on exactly the same principle; a thorough cleaning operation begins two weeks prior to the celebrations, ending on the eve of the New Year. Actually Nowruz, or Nevruz as it is known in Turkey, means the New Day, referring to the first day of the New Year, which marks the start of the calendar. Now it is the time to feast. 

There is no doubt Persian and Chinese cookery differs greatly, but there is one interesting element that is shared in both cultures: there is always fish on the table. Both cuisines are not reputed for their fish courses, and just a quick look at the map reveals the fact that most regions of both countries are without any access to the sea, lakes or rivers. But fish is about prosperity and plenty; it brings luck and represents fertility and abundance. To have a whole fish on the table represents integrity, wholeness and unity on the table. But what to do if you’re landlocked? The Chinese, in that case, either put a fish-shaped hand-carved wooden statuette or just a pretty gold fish in a jar on the table to adorn it. The red color of the gold fish adds a bonus luck factor, as red is considered auspicious. The Iranians do just the same, which is why in the midst of the Nowruz table there is always a round flask with a golden fish swimming. 

The fishy connection might be that the symbolism of fish related to spring festivals could have its roots in those Asian beliefs. If fish represents so many good things related to spring, why not have it on our table to celebrate spring with an April fish feast?

Recipe of the Week

The best fish this time of the year in Turkey is the black sea turbot. It is also the priciest. One might consider oneself a fool to spend such a fortune on a single fish, but it is for April 1 so it seems appropriate to invest in a few slices of turbot to be rewarded with a feast of fish. Take 4-6 thick slices of turbot. Flash fry them in a few tablespoons of butter, salt and pepper to taste, add a hand full of finely chopped spring onions, a little grated lemon peel and a bunch of watercress. Pour in a good splash of dry white wine, at least 2 glasses to be precise. Cover and let steep for about 15-20 minutes. When the fish pieces are tender and flaky, transfer them in a serving plate; quickly whizz what remains in the pan to make a green sauce to serve with the fish.  

Fork and Cork of the Week

It was like joke. One of the best-ever fried calamari in recent years appeared in a steak restaurant at least 500 miles from the nearest seashore. Tiny baby calamari at JW Steak House in Mariott Ankara is ridiculously good value for money, and comes with a tasty but a bit fishy old bay sauce. The venue is known for American-style steaks and has a well-stocked wine cellar, but believe me go there for the crispiest calamari and other tasty starters and wash it down with good ale. As the French say, “Poisson sans boisson c’est poison - Fish without drink is poison!” They also have Belgian, German and British beers, some which are hard to find. My splash was a Fuller’s Vintage Ale, a bottle-conditioned limited edition with every single bottle marked individually; my bottle being the No: 038436. Go and try it, this is no April Fool’s joke!