DAY 351: Touring Sydney Fish Market

17 Aug

THERE’S a quaint olde English saying that has been passed down from generation to generation – why, it was even scrawled upon the bottom side of the climbing frame at my local playground as a child. If a girl smells of fish, it dictates, she’s nary a doubt been to Billingsgate.

The Australian equivalent would be the Sydney Fish Market, and no doubt the glamazons in the lifts at the women’s mag later are whispering that I’ve been there, but that’s okay, because I have.

I’m up at five this morning, to take the tour. The Sydney Fish Market’s actually the third most popular tourist attraction of the city, but I’m here to thrash my fear of seafood once and for all.

Bailer shell

My guide, Portia, is fresh out of uni and says she has neither a background in fishing or tourism, but likes the idea of being an expert at something. Knowledge, for her, always has to have a purpose and earn her a dose of approval.

“I’m the same!” I exclaim, fudging my philosophies endearingly. “I could just do something new every day without documenting it, but it’s like the one hand clapping in the woods. If nobody’s around to acknowledge it, did it even happen?”

Portia gets exactly what I mean. What’s more, we soon establish that she too has been to a peep show recently, as her mate gave her a behind-the-scenes tour. What a smashing bond we’re forging. Now, on to the fish.

Part 1 of the great fish tour – consisting of me, an authentically beardy ex-fisherman called Horatio, and his girlfriend – involves watching the morning auction. The buyers bay abuse at the auctioneer, or at each other when someone bids too early. It’s a reverse auction system, based on the way the Dutch would auction flowers, so the price starts high and goes down, rather than up.

Pink ling.

Down on the floor, Portia walks us through some of the 100 species being bid for. We’re shown how to discern the sex of a blue swimmer crab (it’s all in the plate underneath: it’s either shaped ‘U’ for uterus, or ‘V’ for Viagra).

She picks up a pink ling, which is dripping with frothy mucus, but which is a good ‘starter fish’ for kids as it has big bones and makes non-fishy fillets. Then there’s the flashing silver ribbonfish, which looks stunning but tastes pretty foul. It’s mainly dried and used in Chinese cooking.

We learn that flake and hake, on a fish & chip shop menu, is shark; see what a cuttlefish bone looks like when it has a cuttlefish around it; peer into a bailer shell (“poor man’s abalone”) and peel off the jacket of an ocean jacket. I cut the tour short when we come to fiddling with live lobsters.


Keeper? Yeah, pretty interesting. Although for the next three days I can smell fish particles in my hair and clothes. Kudos to ya, Portia.

%d bloggers like this: