The first village I moved to in the Axarquía was a good 45 minutes - and a similar amount of neck-breaking hair bends - from the sea and had only one small supermarket. I didn’t think I’d be able to buy any kind of fresh fish locally. Much to my surprise several different fish vans visited us each week, beeping their horns wildly as they manoeuvred through the steep streets. By the time my favourite fishmonger, José Miguel, had expertly backed down into the main square there would be a queue of customers waiting for him.
Even more surprising was the display on offer. In season there were sardines always and often hake and skate wings. But also squid and baby squid, octopus, cuttlefish and fresh anchovies which José Miguel showed me how to gut, just using a finger and a deft action.
When we returned to Britain I knew that we’d struggle to get many of the fish we bought every week, for a few euros a kilo. There’s no squid, no octopus, no navajas nor jibia on sale in the fishmongers of East Anglia though it is possible to buy marinated anchovies in titchy exorbitant pots in our poshest supermarket.
However, plus ça change, as they say. Here in our Suffolk village we too are visited several times a week by fish vans. And though my husband spent our first few weeks plaintively asking the fishmonger if he had any squid (“Er no,” he replied with incredulity and increasingly less patience) we have embraced what is on offer which comes every day from the fishing boats off Lowestoft. Of course there is cod but also haddock, sea trout, wild sea bass and in the winter mussels from North Norfolk. Now we can buy dressed Cromer crabs, fillets of plaice and handfuls of samphire. And as in Spain, John the fish man will take orders and hang bags of fish on his customers’ front doors if they’re out.
If we venture further, to the estuaries and coast of East Anglia, the choice just gets better and better. In West Mersea, near Colchester, it’s possible to get native oysters that are rated among the best in the world. In Orford there is a long established smokehouse selling oak smoked mackerel, trout and eel. In Aldeburgh and Southwold the traditional black wooden shacks which line the shore sell just what comes off the boat each day. But the one thing my husband still really craves is almejas. His favourite stall in Malaga market was the clam man’s in the corner of the fish section. All he sold was a heaped pile of small clams - “sin arena” - and once they’d gone he would pack up and go home. We could buy almejas every day except Sunday even in our inland village.
Recently we went shopping in Bury St Edmunds which has a twice-weekly street market with a fish stall. Once again my husband attempted to buy clams. Once again the fishmonger explained that yes he could get them but they would have to be especially ordered from - guess where - Spain and that they would be very expensive. “But,” interjected the fishmonger’s wife, “Why don’t you use cockles instead? We’ve got kilos and kilos of them, they come from the East Anglian coast and they cost almost nothing”.