Sunday, April 22, 2012

Lost in fish translation

Here, fishy fish...on the far right, San Pietro, next to it Gallinella
One of the most charming aspects of Ristorante Miky is the "fish boat" that they carefully set up every night before dinner service, which displays the fresh fish we offer for the nightly menu.  The fisherman drops off the last of the fish in the middle of the afternoon, and then we fill the little boat outside the door with ice, and get to work arranging our friends from the sea. 
Frequently, people come to snap pictures and ask questions - though it might be obvious to people who have lived their whole lives next to a great big ocean, and to a family that has a history of selling fish in the nearby cities, for many people the idea that this fish was caught today and can be eaten right now is a novelty and an incredibly strange idea. 

Where people here serve fish with the heads on, healthy gills and shiny, clear eyes, as a proud sign of the freshness and quality of the catch, many tourists shudder at "seeing" their dinner looking back at them.  All of these are things that can be solved, but some fish related questions just don't have answers - and I'm talking about something as simple as a name.
Bronzino on the left, and a gallinella on the right with some scampi friends
The fish selection always includes bronzino and orata, both white fish from here that can be served in the oven, cooked Ligurian style with potatoes, oil and little black olives, or in a salt crust, which is packed over the whole fish then baked in the oven, keeping the fish moist and all the flavor inside the meat.  Bronzino can be explained easily as a type of sea-bass, but the commonly eaten orata, another local fish with a semi-firm, flavorful white meat, translates to "gilt head sea bream", which I find to be a mouthful, and not nearly as beautiful as orata
Rombo, or turbot, is another fish that pops up from time to time, and though turbot is the English name, rombo, which designates its funny little square-ish shape (rhombus) is much more endearing. 
Gallinella, a beautiful rose colored fish that glides on colorful little fins that look like wings, wins the unheard of name translation of tub gurnard.  It's in the trill family, and much prettier then a tub gurnard, which I refuse to recognize as it's official English name.

Perhaps the best one is San Pietro, which translates to John Dory fish.  In both languages, the name has a cute story.  A big, flat fish with a distinctive "thumbprint" or "eye" shaped mark on the side, the story goes that St. Peter caught this fish one day, then squeezed it and threw it back in the water, marking it with it's distinctive spot.  In English, John Dory is a fisherman mentioned in an ancient ballad.  The stories go on - that the fish has a latin root name that means "gate keeper", hence the St. Peter reference, but regardless, it's quite a name.

Every day I find myself googling fish, searching for a name translation that I wind up tossing.  Sometimes, they just sound better in Italian.

Then, as I was typing this, I looked at our dish soap, and realized that sometimes it goes the other way, too.  After all - who wants frizzy soap?

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