One of the pleasures in returning to Nelson has been the chance to buy good quality seafood at reasonable prices. That was something we certainly could not do in Christchurch. Try as we might, we never came across a shop down there that had fish of consistent good quality. The range of species was very much smaller as well. Our local fish shop is called “Guyton’s“, down on the waterfront less than a 10 minute walk away.
It is fantastic! I’ll try to explain why. Because Nelson is the headquarters for so much of New Zealand’s seafood industry, people have come to expect a wide range of very fresh seafood.
Let’s look at what’s on offer today:
There are some species that you’d find in most shops throughout New Zealand: Snapper, Gurnard, Tarakihi, Groper (or Hapuku), Salmon and John Dory. Today there is also some Turbot from the West Coast, absolutely delicious and only $21 per kilo.
Trevally seems to be considered just a bait fish by many New Zealanders, but it’s right up there amongst the very best if handled and cooked properly. I think it’s the very top of the range of white fish for sashimi, for example.
Sometimes things are not quite as they seem. Kingfish is a prize catch for fishermen (yellowtail, bure in Japan). But “Southern Kingfish” is actually something completely different, otherwise known as “Gemfish” .
But look at these next trays.
Silver Dory and Black Dory are incredibly ugly deep water fish, but also very good to eat. Incredibly cheap, because people are still not very familiar with them. I think Alfonsino is much the same (not ugly, but cheap).
But wait, there’s more!
Moki and Warehou are locals, with firm flesh that is especially good for curries and pies. But what is “Silver Trumpeter”? It’s not the usual Trumpeter (a fish in the style of Snapper, Tarakihi and Trevally). It’s a very different, actually “elephant fish“, a kind of shark.
I guess most people know what the other names for Rig are: shark or (especially in restaurants) “Lemon fish”. It’s one of the most popular species used in the classic “fish and chips”. Boar Fish we don’t see very often. I’d be fairly sure it’s a by catch. Almost never caught on a fishing line, they are sometimes caught by divers.
Bluenose (a kind of sea bass) is probably familiar to most, the meat very similar to groper and much the same price.
There’s a stuffed groper (hapuku) up on the wall, over 1 m long:
From time to time we get fresh (live) crayfish, always smaller than this monster on display:
But if you’d like a really healthy change, there is always New Zealand’s famous Greenshell Mussels. These are live, with quite a good seawater system.
I couldn’t resist including a shot of city councillor, musical director and musician Pete Rainey, a discerning customer who also appreciates good shellfish. Just look at the price!
There were a few fish species missing during this visit. Because it was a Friday, there was no Big Eye Tuna. Flounder and Sole were also missing, along with Blue Cod (horrors!)
Incidentally, not long after we left Christchurch Guyton’s opened up a branch down there, at the Merivale Mall. It looks as if they very soon found that the Christchurch customers have a different taste in fish from those in Nelson. When I called in, they were selling only those fish people were used to: blue cod (of course), Snapper, Gurnard, Tarakihi, Akaroa Cod, Groper, etc. None of the deepwater species.
I often wonder why the quality of fish sold in most other parts of New Zealand is so poor. I think must be largely due to the expectations of their customers. Here in Nelson we believe that fish shops should not smell of fish, that fish meat should never be ‘gaping’, that the eyes of whole fish should be crystal clear, not cloudy, and so on and so on.
In case that seems arrogant, I must confess that I have been humbled by my contact with Japanese friends and colleagues. Just as regular wine drinkers develop a sophisticated taste in wine, enabling them to descend subtle differences in nose and flavour, I believe the same applies to fish. My Japanese friends find differences in fish that I simply cannot detect. The most extreme example I have come across was “Fugu“, pufferfish. I was treated to Fugu in a restaurant in Tokyo, the most expensive meal I’ve ever had (well over $2000 for 4 people). I found it almost completely tasteless. Exquisitely beautiful and wonderfully presented, but tasteless. Not so my hosts who were savouring every mouthful. On the other hand, they may have been simply celebrating the fact that they were still alive.