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Two Japanese students at the Friday fish market

Two Japanese students at the Friday fish market

Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes

Eating with Eichholtz

The cornerstone of the Friday market in Maastricht is the fish market. It’s a Catholic tradition to eat in moderation on the day of the week on which Jesus was crucified. In practice, this meant people ate fish on Fridays instead of meat – if they could afford to do so, that is. As a result, the demand for fish in the Catholic south of the Netherlands was highest on Fridays. The effects of this can be seen in Maastricht to this day: while there aren’t many fish shops in the city, there’s a great fish market every Friday. I go there to buy fresh fish almost every week.

Students from Japan

The best way to evaluate fish quality is to smell and taste it when it’s raw. The cuisine with the richest raw fish tradition, of course, is Japanese cuisine. Fortunately, there are at UM. I found two of them who were willing to try the fish sold on the Friday market with me: Yu Yamamoto and Hayashi Hayashi. Yu is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Psychology (FPN) and Hayashi is enrolled in the bachelor’s programme European Studies (FASoS).

Both students have international backgrounds. Yu has studied and worked in the Middle East and Australia, and Hayashi spent a large part of his life in the Philippines, where his mother ran a Japanese restaurant. He often went with her to the market to buy fresh fish. Here in the Netherlands, Yu and Hayashi rarely eat salmon, shrimp or mackerel, for example, as our supermarket fish isn’t fresh enough for them. Neither has been to the Friday fish market before and both are pleasantly surprised by the variety of fish on offer. But is the fish fresh enough?

Gezonde Apotheek and Bep & Co

The two largest market stalls selling fresh fish are the Gezonde Apotheek (literally “Healthy Pharmacy”) and Bep & Co. I know people who are loyal customers at Bep, but I myself never go there. I’m a regular at the Apotheek. Together with Yu and Hayashi, I’ll find out whether my preference is based on prejudice or fact.

To determine the freshness of the fish, Yu and Hayashi first inspect the eyes: bright means fresh, cloudy means less fresh. Then, they peer into the gills. The insides should be pink-red, a shade of red that slowly fades to greyish or brown as the fish loses freshness. Of course, none of this information is very useful if you’re buying a fillet. To determine the freshness of a fillet, Yu and Habashi press down on the flesh with the blunt side of a knife to test its resistance: bouncing back is good. Naturally, there’s also a great deal of looking and smelling involved. The required degree of freshness varies according to the intended purpose of the fish. Fish for sashimi (thinly sliced, raw fish) should basically still be alive; fish for baking or cooking requires less of a critical eye.

Doesn’t smell fishy

At both stalls, we start by trying out salmon and Atlantic cod. Bep & Co sells very fresh salmon that doesn’t smell fishy, bounces back and is beautifully marbled. It tastes very fatty, as salmon should. This salmon is fresh enough to be used for sashimi. The salmon sold by the Apotheek is slightly less fresh. It’s soft, not very bouncy and a little sticky. It doesn’t smell, though, and it tastes fine. This salmon is excellent for cooking or baking.

Cod is never eaten raw in Japan. It’s white fish and not very fatty, which means it’s less interesting to be eaten raw and unprepared. My guests associate cod with winter, as it’s the main ingredient in the winter dish nabe: Japanese soup with dashi, napa cabbage and daikon. As with the salmon, the cod sold by the Apotheek is slightly less fresh than the cod sold by Bep & Co, but both are fine for use in nabe or some other hot dish.

Tuna and mackerel

Bep & Co sells almost exclusively fillets. They sell tuna fillets specifically meant to be used for sashimi. I think the tuna looks fantastic, but my Japanese guests spot a few dried-out edges and aren’t very happy about the degree of resistance of its flesh. It also smells too fishy and it’s a little too sticky. In short, it’s a beautiful piece of tuna for grilling, but it isn’t fresh enough to be used for sashimi.

The Gezonde Apotheek offers a wide variety of whole fish. We buy a fresh mackerel. My guests take their time to admire it: this mackerel vastly outperforms the ones sold in Japan. The eyes and gills look perfect. In Japan, a fish like this would be grilled in its entirety – and eaten for breakfast! Here in the Netherlands, Hayashi professionally cuts a fillet from the mackerel to taste it raw. It’s delicious. This is without a doubt the best fish we’ve tasted all morning. It has a beautiful, subtle taste – fatty, but not as dominant as the fattiness of the salmon – and a perfect mouthfeel.

After this morning of tasting fish, it’s still not clear which of the two stalls is the best one. It seems as though Bep sells better fillets and the Apotheek sells better whole fish, as well as a wider variety of fish. In any case, the Maastricht fish market has found two new fans in Yu and Hayashi.

Piet Eichholtz

 

 

Unregularly, Professor Piet Eichholtz (Professor of Finance at SBE) trawls the streets of Maastricht in search of good food with a student or colleague and reports on his findings here

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