Inside the Billingsgate Fish Market
Two weeks ago my partner Nathan and I ventured out to Billingsgate Fish Market. We always seek to find roots of the food that we consume. We decided that were going to learn and appreciate the “By Sea” Process.
We’re always telling stories about chefs and restaurants of passionate individuals in the industry through Nathan’s company, Foodstorymedia.net. Our goals are to show the work, passion, effort, and skill that goes into properly preparing food. Our motto is “Great stories are told by those who have been a part of them.” As we’re both from different ends of the industry, we aim to tell these stories from an inside perspective. When the topic of Billingsgate arose, we figured it would only be fair to experience it ourselves before telling the story. I’m so glad we did.
The market opens for deliveries at 4 am. We got there at 3:45 am to scope the place out and make that we were allowed to film and use our cameras. Before entering the space, there was an industrial feel of the area along with damp pavements from washing away the fish water. This was the perfect introduction to the old school fisherman community. It was still dark when we arrived so the combination of darkness, dampness and cold may not seem so inviting, but everyone that passed us by smiled, and that was enough welcome for us. In we went.
What is Billingsgate Market?
Once you enter the fish market, the energy completely shifts. Bright lights and the hustle and bustle of fish laborers is something I’ve never experienced first hand. I think for a moment we were a bit stunned from all that was going on at one time when the rest of the city was fast asleep.
The market functions in 2019 almost exactly as it did since the 1960s. Each trader has a designated space which comes handy with a phone that’s used to contact the boats at sea. We arrived while the fisherman packed their orders for pick-up by the fish-porters. Once collected, the fish-porters transport fish from the market to hundreds of vans that make deliveries to restaurants and supermarkets. A few loud “mind your legs” and I finally got the hint to move out of the way and let them work.
To my surprise, although the smell of fish is definitely present, it smelled more like the ocean. This was fish that was caught hours ago, so the level of freshness is top notch and excludes the “fishy” aromas we all tend to dislike.
Upon speaking to a few traders, we learned about their love for this industry. You can hear it in the way they spoke of the fish they were trading.
Saying “this ones’ a beauty” of a decapitated tuna may not warm the hearts of the squeamish, but it’s all about perspective. The appreciation for the process and product that they’re trading makes you understand why they choose this lifestyle. You can see the attention which makes it worth paying more for fresh fish rather than something frozen solid.
What you find at Billingsgate Market?
The spread is vast, as the boats come from various countries.
Crabs, cockles, crayfish, mussels, seaweed counters, and just about every variety of fish you can wish of finding. We bought some monk. We then seared it with salsa verde along with curried parsnips and sweet potatoes. Feel free to try make it for yourself!
All in all, this experience was humbling and eye-opening. To be a part of the daily fish trade from the moment it begins until the moment it ends (