Growing up in landlocked Minnesota as I did, my childhood was not full of shrimp, scallops, or sea bass. We did not pull oysters from the bay near our home or visit fish markets to see what was freshest that day. Instead, my big adventure was pulling corn out of a neighboring field and trying to eat it raw right off the cob. The staples in our house were hot dogs, pork chops, and beef stroganoff, with plenty of carbs on the side. This was not my parents’ fault, mind you: they were lucky if they could get me to eat peas–good luck getting me to eat anything that smelled funny, wasn’t beige, or had eyes. Yes, there were fish sticks in my childhood, those marvelous mozzarella sticks of the sea, but as fish sticks bear about as much resemblance to fish as the cast of Jersey Shore does to actual Italians, I’m not sure that counts. In fact, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t.
I have spent the majority of my adult life avoiding sea creatures. Every Christmas, my family sits around fondue pots and we all gorge ourselves until our pants need unbuttoning. Sure, shrimp and scallops are options alongside the beef and pork, but you can bet your bottom dollar I’ve never been part of that nonsense. In restaurants, I routinely choose duck, chicken, lamb, cow, pig, and wee little rabbits over whatever fish dish our server is reciting passionate poetry about. There are some truly fantastic restaurants in Minneapolis we’ve never visited because their specialty is seafood and, you know, ew, oysters. The problem with fish, I’ve always said, is that it tastes like fish. (I said this, of course, without having eaten much fish at all. What do I know about what it tastes like?)
So given my lack of experience and my insane anti-fish prejudice, what I’m about to say is a pretty major development and stellar victory for humans everywhere: I’M EATING SEAFOOD, YOU GUYS.
I mean, not often, and not always, but I’m totally doing it. It started in London, where my standard pub order was fish and chips. Then fast forward to Dubrovnik, the gorgeous seaside town where they film Game of Thrones. The only non-fish item on menus there tended to be sad pasta with tomatoes. So one night, after I had already eaten plenty of sad pasta with tomatoes, I took the plunge: while Matt ordered an entire school of tiny fried fish, I ordered shrimp risotto. (My theory was that I could eat around the shrimp and just go to town on the risotto if need be.)
But need did not be! It was fucking delicious! So delicious that I abandoned my previous plan and I ate the shrimp first! I even almost forked Matt’s hand when he tried to go after a particularly tasty-looking one I had my eye on. That’s how good it was.
But wait! There’s more! Recently, Matt and I found ourselves walking around Istanbul with our friend Jamie, who is lucky enough to live there. She pointed out a street vendor selling something called media, which is essentially chopped-up mussels mixed with rice and lemon juice and then served right out of the mussel shell for a paltry 25 cents each.
However emboldened I may have been with my shrimp success, though, I was still not prepared to hop on the mussel train. I had never encountered a mussel I enjoyed even the look of, and that they were often described as “briny” did nothing to promote them in my mind. But somehow, over my mumbled protests and head shaking, I somehow found a little shell in my hand and the vendor’s eyes on my face. And because I have a deep need to be liked by strangers, I tilted my head back and downed the thing.
AND IT WAS AWESOME. So I had another. And another. And then I had a fourth because the vendor didn’t have change for us, so why not? Later, we all ate sandwiches full of deep-fried mussels and thick garlic-butter sauce. And I finally got what all this seafood fuss was about.
Now don’t get me wrong: I will still continue to eat more land creatures than sea creatures. Old habits die hard, after all. But a goal on this trip was to expand my midwestern palette and eat some new stuff. And maybe even like some new stuff. So while I don’t see myself ordering tuna tartare any time soon, there’s the slightest chance I’ll try a bit of Matt’s. And at the Christmas 2013 Bowls of Meat marathon, you can bet your ass I’ll eat a scallop or two. After all, that’s how Jesus would want it.