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Sunday, 3 March 2013

Fish heads (Ψαροκέφαλα)

It's been ages since we had fresh fish, it occurred to her, after she had dropped off her daughters at their basketball coaching session, with a very early start to the weekend at half-past eight. This early rise gave her a chance to take a wander around the town before picking them up later in the morning. It wasn't worth going back home; petrol costs had risen to their heights once again. She came across the fishmonger's stall, her eyes feasting on a full display. The prices varied: the little fish (maritha, sardela, gavros - all a kind of sardine - and garida - shrimp) were quite reasonable, at €3-6/kg, while the bigger fish were the most expensive.
She eyed the bakaliarakia (European hake) longingly. The whole family will eat this fish, she thought, as opposed to the small cheap fish. Bakaliarakia were sometimes on special at the fishmonger's - she had bought it at a mere €5/kg before Christmas - but not today, unfortunately. She shuddered when she saw the little white card above the crate: €14/kg. And you'll be lucky to get six pieces to the kilo..

Fish are weighed before they are gutted, so when she bought expensive fish, she always made sure that what she ended up with will be worth the money she paid for it. She continued walking along the road to the next fresh fish seller, whose display seemed to be severely lacking. He's selling his remaining stock from yesterday. Across the road was one more fish shop, whose display looked even fuller than the previous store's. He was selling bakaliarakia for €12/kg. Her walk managed to secure her a discount of €2. 

"One kilo," she said, pointing to the bakaliarakia. She watched the fishmonger place six in the paper cone. Then she remembered that five people were going to eat those six fish. 

"Make it one and a half kilos," she said. He placed three more pieces in the paper cone and then put it on the scales, which gave a final reading of 1.4kg. He paused momentarily, to glance very quickly at the bakaliarakia in the crate, and back again to the scales. There was no fish small enough to make up the weight. He turned back to the woman. 

"That's €17," he said. 

"It's not quite one and a half kilos. I need one more piece." Nine fish. That doesn't even yield two fish per person. Her gaze was fixed on the fish, not once looking up at the fishmonger.

On his part, the fishmonger was wondering what to do.  Here he had, in this woman, a well-paying customer who was willing to give him €18, yet he had asked her for €17, not because he wouldn't have preferred the €18, but because he was in two minds about whether to add one more fish to the parcel and charge her more than €18, or to just leave the parcel as it was. Either way, he decided, he would be losing out on at least €1. He had had enough time to glance at the woman's clothes. Tehre was a hole in her running pants, her tennis shoes were dirty and so was her bag. He placed one more fish in the paper cone, twisted its top and placed it in a plastic bag. 
"There you are," he said gruffly, and the woman noticed this too.

"How much?" she asked him, still not raising her head to look at him. She had taken out a €20 note from her purse. 

"Eighteen," the fishmonger replied, passing her the parcel and taking the note. He gave the money to another assistant, who rang it up at the till. 

The woman took her change and left the store.   

Three each for Apostoli and the boy (they were working in the fields), and two each for the girls. Oh, what the hell, I'll eat the heads.

I eat the heads too. Most mothers do.

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