The restaurant plot smelt

The waiter looked alarmed, the proprietress looked livid and the other customers looked awestruck
By John Owen | Mar 07, 2013

You may have seen the recent Seattle Times article describing the daredevil surfers who travel in mid-winter to Nazare, Portugal to tackle 100-foot waves rolling in from the North Atlantic.

"It's like an earthquake," a Nazare resident says. " When the wave breaks, you can feel the earth shaking under your feet."

Been there. Done that.

No, I'm not a surfer, here or abroad.  But I have been in the eye of a storm in Nazare,  many years ago.

It was summer time and there was a different kind of action on the beach.

Alice and I visited the outdoor market to buy a barbecued chicken, a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine.  We settled down on the sand to watch the action.

The town's fishermen began to row out into the water, pulling giant nets behind them.

When they had created a half circle, wives, children and grand children raced down to the water and began tugging at the two ends of the net, revealing with their efforts a large school of sardines which eventually ended up in giant baskets.

Later that day we walked the Nazare neighborhoods and it seemed as though every family had freshly cleaned sardines on small, backyard barbecues.

"I know what I'm going to have for dinner," I pronounced and we began to peruse restaurant menus to make sure there were fresh sardines in the kitchen.

We finally selected one, the female proprietor gave us a table with a view and then the waiter arrived.

"I'd like sardines," I began, but he interrupted me.

"I'm sorry sir," he said.  "it is not the season for sardines.   I would recommend the broiled lobster."

"Wait a minute," I protested.  "Not only is this the season, your town is presently awash in sardines."

He shook his head with a sad expression and began to repeat his protestations and recommendation for lobster when I stood up.

"C'mon," I said to Alice.  "This is a tourist trap."  And I got up to leave.

The waiter looked alarmed, the proprietress looked livid and the other customers looked awestruck.

We were halfway to the door when the lady of the house began to swear at us in Spanish, Portuguese and perhaps also in German.

She followed us out the door and halfway through the entranceway, cussing and waving her arms.  I swear that I could feel the earth shaking beneath our feet.

Alice and I walked stoically out to the sidewalk and down the street, when I suddenly paused.

"I left my damned hat there," I explained.

"You're not going back to get it are you?" she asked hopefully.

"It's my favorite hat," I said and began to retreat back toward the restaurant.  I was halfway there when I saw the waiter running out into the street, waving my hat.  He gave it to me with a sigh of relief.

These days if I lust for fresh sardines when Columbia River or Olympic Peninsula smelt are in season I substitute this dish.

 

Pan Fried Smelt

 

16 smelt cleaned

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup cornmeal

1/2 cup flour

1/4 cup butter

5 teaspoons cooking oil

 

Wipe fish with paper towel, season with salt and pepper and roll in mixture of cornmeal and flour.  Heat butter and oil in a skillet, and fry the fish about three minutes on each side until golden brown.

If you get a pay raise next week, THEN you can order the lobster.

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