The Holiday Seasons are filled with various traditions and customs, most of which originate from religious, ethnic, or family beliefs.
Culinary traditions dominate the holiday season and it brings the opportunity for family to enjoy a meal together –something of a rare occurrence in today’s world. My German heritage doesn’t offer much ‘deliciousness’ in our gastronomic tradition, but we have non-German family dishes that have become favorites, like my grandmother’s oyster stuffing, the Dugan green bean casserole, or the ‘monkey bread’, a devilishly good invention of the Pillsbury Doughboy. Recently, I fished with a good friend with strong Italian roots and we were catching fish for a ‘Feast of Seven Fishes,’ an intriguing custom that I will definitely try in the future. What could possibly be better than a seafood feast?
The Feast of Seven Fishes is an adaptation of a southern Italian celebration on Christmas Eve commemorating the wait of the midnight birth of baby Jesus. Obviously the meal consists of seven seafood dishes — but it can be as many as you like. The origin of ‘seven’ is unclear but the Roman Catholic roots point to the seven sacraments of the Church, and the six days God created the earth, resting on the seventh. The number seven is also the most repeated number in the Bible. So let’s agree on ‘feast of fishes.’ The number of dishes can only make it better.
Traditionally, the feast included a combination of whiting, sardines, eel, squid, smelt, shrimp, octopus, lobster, and baccala (salted cod). Pastas, vegetables, and homemade wine rounded out the menu. Here on Block Island we have a bounty of seafood dishes courtesy of the local restaurants during the season. Here is a ‘Feast of Fishes’ I’d like to have on Christmas Eve from our local establishments.
National Hotel — Clam Chowder. (Chowder cook-off winner.)
Finn’s — Steamers, an iconic appetizer in New England.
Rebecca’s — Fresh mahi, when it’s fresh it’s good.
The Oar — Sushi, specifically the spicy tuna roll.
Dead Eye Dick’s — Crab cakes (because there’s more crab than cake).
Winfield’s — Lobster Mac and Cheese, ridiculously addictive.
Kimberly’s — Norman Ward’s bouillabaisse; local clams, mussels, scallops, white fish, and shrimp. Legendary.
Eli’s Tuna Nachos — I don’t know anyone that has not had these.
Harbor Grill’s Whole Belly Clams — Not easy to find on the island. They are delicious.
Ballard’s — Lobster 24 different ways. Pick one.
Spring House/The Barn — Calamari in a white bean tomato sauce with peppadew peppers, one of my top three favorite dishes of all time.
The Feast of Seven Fishes is an Italian American tradition that can be enjoyed by any American. This magnificent melting pot called the United States of America has tremendous diversity in traditions and customs throughout the cultural and religious beliefs of our population. We are a country of immigrants and it’s what makes us great. Regardless of what religion, ethnicity, or political affiliation people have, sitting down for a meal together makes everyone family, so during the Holiday Season enjoy your family, friends, food, and freedom.
From the crew at Block Island Fishworks we wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. See you in 2016 with more fishing news.
Catch ‘em up!