Fish on Friday: It's a Good Thing

It's a cinch to give up meat for Lent on the seafood-abundant Gulf Coast. But I grew up in the landlocked Midwest, and during the weeks leading up to Easter my parents had a fondness for baked haddock, one of the fishiest-tasting fish I know. I ate a lot of macaroni and cheese.

When I balked, my parents told me I was lucky, as they abstained from meat every Friday of the year when they were young. That threw me, as I'd always thought it of a give-up-stuff-for-Lent sort of thing, a question of sacrifice and spiritual discipline. So, why did the rule change, and where did the practice originate?

A legend is that a pope instituted the practice as a way of propping up his friends in the Italian fishing industry, and in fact the price of fish plummeted worldwide in 1966 when Pope Paul IV oversaw the rule change. However, the practice of meat-abstaining predates this myth. One historian claimed that early Christians, offended that meat from sacrificial animals was for sale in markets on Fridays, avoided buying meat altogether on that day.

Never Mind the Truth

I never learned the definitive reason, but as I've grown to love seafood (except haddock), the spiritual discipline has merged with culinary discipline to spawn a solid reason to look for a great place for fish every Lenten season. This year, I decided on J & J Seafood, a fish market and fried-fish carryout joint at Stella Link and 610.

This past Friday I arrived J & J at noon, just as the lunch rush began. The parking lot overflowed, and a crowd surged in and out of the door. Inside, I saw the wildest frenzy I've ever seen in a restaurant, with dozens of customers ordering and jockeying for position in line. The fishmongers yelled out orders, sometimes in English, sometimes in Vietnamese, and orchestrated the activity with the finesse of air-traffic controllers.

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John Kiely
Contact: John Kiely