Well sort of…My appreciation of this book is not in the recipes which I don’t follow anyway (but do look very authentic and tasty.) The reason why I chose this particular book to review, is in the value of the research contained within. I will explain why this resource is so valuable to me living here in Greece.
It was a super hot day in July and I was fresh off the boat, newly arrived in Greece. Someone had told me about a central market where you could buy meat, fresh vegetables, and fish. I was intrigued, so with map in hand I ventured into the bowels of the city to find this culinary treasure. After an hour or so of walking I was literally soaked head to toe in sweat (being used to 20C I was now suffering with 40C.) Seeking relief from the heat I ducked into a shady back alley, only to realize with delight that I found the fish market. I stood at the entrance for quite a while soaking in the experience. Cool refrigerated air and bright lights revealed a warehouse of fish mongers. I was in awe, I had never seen so many fish in one place in my life. I realized that I had found the heart and soul of Greek culinary culture. As if to signify that I was an intruder in this sacred place and that I dare not linger further, my feet were promptly run over by an old lady with shopping trolley. It was like being suddenly awakened from a dream. Muttering to myself about speed bumps, I looked at my feet shod in rubber flip flops and examined the black tire tracks over the top. (I am refraining from commenting further on Greek old ladies….safe to say, treat them with kid gloves.) I entered with caution and was assaulted visually by shapes and colours of species of fish that I did not recognize and a few that I did. The shapes, the spines, the teeth were all new to me. There was skinned shark, ugly skate, and beautiful swordfish. I spent about an hour there inspecting each species, wondering what parts were used and how they were cooked. Intoxicated I exited, realizing that wearing flip flops to the fish market was a grave mistake. I was soaked from the ankles down in “fish juice”.
So what makes Alan Davidson’s book worthy of a review is that it is like a phrase book to another language. It fills a huge gap in identification and naming of the species of fish found in the Mediterranean basin. When you open the well organized pages you will find that the book is laid out into two parts. Part one is a catalogue and deals with the identification and naming of fish (in 5-6 different languages.) Part two is a recipe book of sorts, giving recipes from various regions and illustrating the use of each fish in particular cultures. What makes this book invaluable to me is the first part. For example when I go to the fish market and I see a particularly handsome specimen. I look at the label and I see that in Greek it is called “Tsipoura,” what is that anyway? So I go to the index and find that a Tsipoura is located on page 75 and that in English it is called a Gilt-head Sea Bream. Now that I know what the fish is, I can deal with it appropriately. So for a boy from the prairies, the use of this book has increased my knowledge and appreciation of lesser known Mediterranean fish species and the culture that thrives around their consumption. Beg, borrow, or steal this book, it is worth every penny.