Fish Markets conjure nostalgia for the past and, simultaneously, a deep longing for connection to the present – to appreciate this fish, this man behind the counter, this moment. This fish you’re buying was, not so long ago, throwing its dice in the vast seas, dodging predators, searching out food – living wild. Some scruffy-bearded man hedged his bets against the wind and salty waters, and dragged the ocean’s bounty ashore. Maybe he did it because it’s what he’s always done, because he has a family to feed, or because it’s something ingrained; it’s in our human bones, to risk our lives for the hunt, to triumph over nature, and to make sacred trades – life for life – with creatures that nourish us.
It also leads us toward our future with the promise of a delicious meal.
Tony Flores loves fresh spot prawns, barely cooked in a basic tomato sauce. He lit up when he told me about the way the prawns taste, and the flavor they add to the sauce. I wasn’t surprised. After talking to Tony for just a few minutes, I could tell he was absolutely the real thing, or at least, the real thing the way I imagine it: kindhearted, a little rough around the edges – no frills, no bullshit, just all about good food, family, love – everything that’s important.
Tony comes from a line of fisherman, beginning with his grandfather, who emigrated from Sicily to America in the 20’s. Tony’s wife, Rosalia, has a similar family history. In fact, their grandfathers lived in villages not too far from one another on the island of Sicily, and Tony and Rosalia grew up living just a few blocks from each other in Monterey.
Tony began fishing commercially when he was 15. Talking to him is like talking to a knowledgeable mechanic. Behind his eyes is a catalogue of things average Joe could never know: the behavior of exotic fish, how to weather storms, where to find prawns. No matter the tools I was given, if you put me on a boat, I’d only be able to bang around the body of the fishing industry. I’d never be able to recreate the lineage, and the nearly thirty years Tony’s put into knowing the ocean the way mainland mechanics know their cars.
One thing he knows about is eating seasonally, patiently anticipating the arrival of crab, salmon, or halibut. He said, growing up in his family, “We always looked forward to a specific season for a specific food…we’re happy to bring that back.”
Chico Fish Market is now open for business on the corner of Highway 32 and Forest Ave. Tony makes trips to Monterey for fresh catch, and offers, on glistening beds of ice, seasonal fish from our coast-line. I don’t care about the pun, I’m hooked.