There is a conflict within me. My head is all for scientific rationalization. I love the questioning various aspects of things we take for granted, and trying to find a coherent truth. But in my heart? I am a romantic. Beauty can’t be quantified or qualified. Things move us, emotionally, for many different reasons, and trying to find out their hows & whys only seem to destroy our reactions to such things.
All of this is my way of introducing my love for the American fish shop, where deep frying is the order of the day, and cole slaw, french fries, and slices of lemon are the only nod to fruits and vegetables.
We now know that deep fried items are, generally speaking, bad for us. Over the course of the past generation or two, this has changed the landscape of this particular type of restaurant. Deep fried clams, beer-battered halibut, or your standard fish and chips are things that “should be avoided”. And so people have. And so, over the course of the past generation or two, the fried seafood shop has lost its popularity.
Even here in Seattle, home of Ivar’s and a handful of other similar places that take advantage of their place next to the Sound that is part of the Pacific Ocean, these restaurants have faded from their heights. Looking it the local newspapers and phone books from the 60′s and 70′s, one could get the impression that deep fried seafood could be found on every corner. Yet now? Now these places have taken a back seat to teriyaki places and Thai restaurants.
I’m not going to lament this culinary shift in tastes and preferences. Time marches on, after all, and who am I to stop it?
But I do admit to a feeling of comfort and joy when I walk into these places that I get in no other restaurant. These places feel like home to me, what with the aroma of malt vinegar, spicy cocktail sauces, and oil that is just about to break down.
Here’s the thing: I know exactly why these places speak to me. The first restaurant my father took me to, without my brother and sisters, was an Arthur Treacher’s. It was there that he treated me to the joys of deep fried clams and the taste of malt vinegar. For an 8 year old who was growing up on baloney sandwiches, Kool-aid, and Quisp and Quake, Arthur Treacher’s was equivalent to a fine dining experience. And I know that every time that I have sprinkled malt vinegar on my french fries, or have ordered deep fried clams, it is a nod to that moment in time back in the mid-70′s.
I look at this now and reflect upon the wonder of that. That this moment still affects me in restaurants to this day is astounding to me. Over the course of the past eight years, I’ve eaten in some of the top restaurants of the world, have eaten new dishes that were exotic, exquisite, or both, and have shared drinks with remarkable locations. And yet none of these moments, not one, have made me feel like I do when I walk into fried fish shop. No other place in the world can make me feel so tied to my past or to my father.
I could try to psycho-analyse this to the nth degree, and figure out the hows and whys of the emotive response. But the romantic in me says this is unnecessary. Some people go to the cemetery to connect with those who have passed on. Me? I think I’ll keep the fish stand.