A large throng of people gathered one lovely spring morning at the Sydney Fish Markets, Pyrmont as the Crave Sydney International Food Festival (SIFF) event For the Love of Seafood was about to commence. The festival, now in its second year, touts itself as “a celebration of all things seafood”.
Fishermen and their families gather, along with a moderate number of photographers and video camera operators, as they commence the Blessing of the Fleet.
The Blessing of the Fleet is an age old tradition that originated in Sicily, offering blessings to fishermen for a safe and bountiful journey.
A fishing boat captain and a priest lead a precession of fishermen carrying a statue of the Madonna, with their families and marching brass band in tow.
Flanking them are two imposing gentlemen that look like the kind of people I hope never to receive an offer I cannot refuse. Joking(?) aside, the precession, as with the rest of the day, had a strong Italian presence to it.
The precession made their way through the Sydney Fish Markets, stopping occasionally to offer blessings to some of the seafood vendors. Eventually, they arrive at their final destination, the Fisherman’s Wharf, where a small flotilla of fishing boats were moored.
After a little fanfare & ceremony, the statue of the Madonna carefully makes its way onboard the fishing vessel “Francesca”. The vessel then headed out into Blackwattle Bay to meet with other fishing boats, offering blessing as they pass by each vessel in turn.
Back on terra firma, there were a number of family-friendly activities to keep everyone entertained.
Some noteworthy ones for the kids were a giant snakes and ladders board (complete with oversized dice), as well as a free face painting stall.
Naturally, there’s also plenty of seafood to be had, whether you choose to eat within the food court area, or on a clear spring morning such that this was, take your food outside for a little alfresco dining or improvised picnic.
Aside from the standard food court vendors, there were also a couple of BBQs setup outside for plenty of seafood skewer action.
BBQ Prawn Skewers and BBQ Salt & Pepper Squid from Doyles were cooked in batches, with a number piled up standby kept warm above the grill ready to be served at a moments notice to a prospective customer.
The prawns were cooked quite nice, with their delightfully springy bite. The squid, on the other hand, were a little on the chewy side. It also lacked any real tongue-numbing pepperiness that you would normally find with traditional salt and pepper squid from a Chinese restaurant.
Prawn Skewers and Ling Fish Skewers, both marinated in sweet chilli sauce, from the BBQ stand outside of De Costi Seafoods.
Both were great and cooked to perfection. Unlike the BBQ stand at Doyles, these were grilled to order. It meant for a longer wait, but the wait was worth the results.
Aside from the BBQ stalls, the only other food vendor outside of the usual market fare was an oyster stall, where the oysters were shucked on the spot.
With only three food stalls outside of the standard market offerings (assuming the BBQ stands are not standard fixture for weekend market shoppers), and with no special food items for the occasion from the existing shops, I found the food side of the event somewhat underwhelming and uninspiring.
It would have been nice to see additional food stalls, whether it is from other restaurants within the markets or nearby restaurants, celebrating the best that the Sydney Fish Markets have to offer. Something like a mini version of a Taste of Sydney or suburban cultural food festival, but with a seafood-centric bend to it.
What the food portion of the day lacked, the entertainment side of things made up for it somewhat.
There were two main stages in operation.
One that seemed organised by, and for the benefit of, the Italian fishing families and friends. However, everyone was welcome to join in.
The other is one that I refer to as the “everything else” stage, which seemed to be the one for Fish Markets organised entertainment.
The “everything else” stage (officially known as the Foodie’s Oasis), with Lyndey Milan as emcee, had the sort of thing you see at most “foodie” festivals. Information sessions e.g. about sustainable fishing, interviews with food industry personalities (a fishing boat captain with a show on Fox), and some cooking demos.
For the novice cook, there was much to learn from the cooking demos. Not just how to cook a particular piece of seafood (grilled bonito in this case) but also important aspects such as proper selection and storage of seafood, herbs and the like.
At the Italian stage (officially, The Fisherman’s Wharf stage), a charismatic Italian gentleman emcees a variety of Italian cultural events, from singing, folk dancing, apple bobbing and a spaghetti eating competition.
What should have been a stage lined with women (the guys had their turn only moments earlier), ended being a battle of the sexes due to a lack of female participants.
Finding willing female participants was painful to watch. An open call for participants fell of deaf ears. As the emcee worked his way into the crowd to find
suitable any candidates victims, women fought their way out of the crowd, literally running away from the stage, throwing their confused boyfriends in their wake as interference.
It was more embarrassing to watch them flee than what was seen on stage. At least for the female contestants. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the men…
The competition was fierce, especially amongst the men, who had to overcome a handicap of additional serve of pasta over the women.
In the end, the competition was won by the only mamma to grace the stage who, incidentally, not only won the competition fair & square but wasn’t shy about her victory either.
Sir, hang your sauce-smeared face in shame.
Though the victory dance was more in personal celebration, it may has well have been as in your face as a plate of spaghetti was only moments before.
For the Love of Seafood is a family-friendly day with a little something for everyone. However, I found it was less about the “celebration of all things seafood” and more about the “celebration of all things fishing industry”.
Which is fine if you’re interested in that sort of thing. There’s a lot of insight to be had if you are.
Though, if you’re interest lies in just the seafood, it’s the kind of fare you can expect on any given weekend, for the most part.
For the Love of Seafood was held this year on October 23rd, 2010.
Sydney Fish Markets
Bank St, Pyrmont