12.01.2014

Fish n Chips

Tonight I felt like I satisfied my goal of eating authentic Australian fish n chips from an authentic Australian fish n chippery. These places specialize in one thing and one thing only...deep fried beer battered fish (and chips). The door to these hole in the wall little places usually consists of a bunch of vertical strips of heavy clear plastic hanging from the top of the door frame, intended to keep flies out. There is no dine in area. It is always fish n chips to go.

The fish n chippery tonight was in Queenscliff Australia, not far (about 5k) from Point Lonsdale, where my family has been staying the past couple of days. There are actually two such establishments in Queenscliff that I know of, and probably others I don't. You can get fish and chips in most restaurants in this part of Australia, but in restaurants it is considered an entree and usually overpriced (and often it is a small portion size of fish).

At the fish n chipperies, it is economically priced take away food and they give you a decent sized portion of fish too. There's no need for plates or silverware...they wrap the fish n chips in blank newspaper and that's all (in earlier times they would wrap it in actual leftover newspapers with print on them, but someone figured out that the ink contained something nasty like cadmium and that was banned...Australians are great about regulating publicly hazardous things). Suffice to say, economical cost savings is the name of the game at authentic fish n chipperies.

There is an incredible variety of fish available for human consumption in Australia, probably because Australia is surrounded by ocean on all sides and most of the major cities are on the coast, including Melbourne and surrounds. Some common fish for fish n chips are Flake (aka Gummy Shark), Whiting, and Flathead, which are common catches in Port Phillip Bay where Melbourne, Queenscliff, and Point Lonsdale are located. But there are probably at least 50 other species of fish regularly available to restaurants and fish n chipperies, depending on the season and the haul. Snapper is almost as common as the fish mentioned above. There is one called Blue Grenadier that I have seen available recently. I had Sea Bass at a restaurant a few days ago (neither mutant nor ill tempered).

It was on my list to eat authentic take away fish n chips at least once on this vacation. Last night we went to a fish n chips place in Point Lonsdale, but it was not a truly authentic one. They were only open on weekends for one (real fish n chipperies are open everyday except maybe Sundays, regardless of customer traffic). They also had a long wait time (more than 15 minutes is an excessive wait for deep fried fish) and they got a few peoples' orders wrong. We had to wait nearly an hour for our order, although it was correct. The place also had other non fish n chips things on the menu, like lentil burgers, a true sign of inauthenticity. I think the place was just kind of a weekend pursuit for the proprietors. I felt a little bad for the teenage boy taking orders. Anyway, after that poor fish n chips experience, I felt I needed redemption and the Queenscliff fish n chippery next to the Esplanade Hotel satisfied that need.

Carl and I had walked the 5k from Pt Lonsdale to Queenscliff for some exercise and we had arranged to meet the rest of the family (who drove) in Queenscliff for dinner. When Carl and I reached Queenscliff, we saw an authentic fish n chippery on Hesse Street, the main drag. I went in and found out they'd be open till 8:30. Plenty of time to make it back there after we met the family and had dinner. However, we didn't end up going there.

We met the family for dinner at the Esplanade Hotel on the other end of Queenscliff from where Carl and I had arrived off the beach, and as if fate were smiling on me, there was another authentic fish n chippery right next door to the Esplanade, replete with vertical heavy plastic door strips.

I had a small entree of beef pie at the Esplanade, so as to enjoy dinner with the family, but also leaving ample room for the fish. As dinner was nearing its end, I wandered over to the fish n chippery with my nephew Ty, who was just bored and looking for something to occupy his time.

When we pushed aside the vertical flaps of plastic and entered the store, an authentically Australian looking youth was there to take my order.

"You want Whiting?" the youth enquired when I said I wanted to place an order.

"What other fish are you favoring right now?" I queried, not wanting to go with generic whiting as my fish choice. I wanted something more exotic.

"Well we've got this Rock Ling on special right now," the youth replied, pointing to a small chalk board propped on the countertop, which read: ROCKLING 2 PIECES $15. "It's two fillets for fifteen dollars," the youth confirmed.

"Yes, let's go with that," I said. I was pleased to be getting a fish with the word ROCK in its name.

"Right...that'll be $15 then."

I paid the youth.

"What's the wait?" I asked.

"Oh maybe 10 minutes at most," replied the youth. "I'll plop it in now."

"What can you tell me about Rock Ling?" I asked. "Is it caught locally."

"Oh yeah," replied the youth. "It's a local catch, but it's a deep sea fish...not caught in the bay but out in the strait." He was referring to Port Phillip Bay and the Bass Strait, respectively. The bay opens into the strait at the Heads, two peninsulas of land opposite each other that form the mouth of the bay. Point Lonsdale sits on the end of one of these peninsulas (the other is Portsea on the opposite peninsula). Google map it to better visualize what I am talking about.

On the wall of the fish shop hung two large posters with illustrations of AUSTRALIA'S NATIVE FISH SPECIES. Ty and I passed the less than 10 minute wait looking at the various fish.

"Can you find Rock Ling on there?" I asked Ty.

"What does it look like?" Ty asked. I wasn't really sure but the youth behind the counter had overheard us and chimed in, "Just look for the ugliest one!"

We eventually found Rock Ling on the poster and it was not a handsome fish at all, confirming what the youth had said. It's body resembled that of an eel and it had barbels on its chin suggestive of a bottom feeder. But according to an information sheet about Rock Ling hanging on the wall next to one of the posters, it is indeed a deep sea fish caught in the Bass Staight (rather than within Port Phillip Bay as many other fish are) and it has dense and tasty meat.

The fish was quite delicious and flaky, once we got back to the hotel and I was able to eat it in the community room while Ty and my niece Millie played table tennis. Suffish for my delish fish wish.

No comments:

Post a Comment