By Maria Kalaitzandonakes
CORK, Ireland – I’m having Catholic school flashbacks.
From third to eighth grade I rocked the red and blue plaid skirts and stiff white polo shirts everyday, went to weekly masses, and during Lent, ate my weight in fish.
In years past, the Roman Catholic tradition was to abstain from eating meat, dairy and eggs during fasting periods. This meant for the 40 days before Easter and Christmas, saints’ days, and every Wednesday and Friday of the year the Irish turned to fish.
Over the years fish in Ireland has become wrapped up in the traditions of the church, Regina Sexton, Irish food historian at University College Cork, said.
Some fish even bear the names of Catholic history. John Dory fish, for example is known as the St. Pierre or St. Peter’s fish in Ireland. It’s a coastal fish with yellow-ish body and a large dark spot on its flat side. In practice the spot mimics the look of an eye, and tricks prey into misjudging where the fish’s mouth is. But tradition here says the spot is St. Peter’s thumbprint, showing where he held the fish as he handed it to Jesus to pass out with bread, recorded in the parable of the Loaves and Fishes.
While wandering around the English Market’s fish stalls today, I couldn’t help but laugh as I saw tourists scrunch their noses at the smell. I felt like I was right back with my grumbling elementary school classmates shoveling down their fish at lunchtime.
After I started to look for it, I couldn’t stop seeing the connection. Fish and church were everywhere. Sitting right next to the sleek scale in one fish vendor’s booth was a little Mary figurine and later an older man buying some mussels had a small prayer rope in his hand.
So when we finished at the English Market and headed upstairs for lunch, I ordered the grilled hake and before I took a bite, I bowed my head and said a little prayer, like a good Catholic schoolgirl should.