Black Press file photo

DAVE’S DIGS: In search of the word for the flavour of fish

How do you describe fish that ‘tastes like the sea’?

Lately I have been using this column to discuss issues like homelessness and climate change, but today I’d like to dial down the politics and put a question to readers.

It’s something that’s been on my mind for a while. What is the word or phrase, if any, that best describes the flavour of fish that really tastes like fish yet isn’t “fishy.”

Given the importance of all things fish-related in the city of Campbell River, I figured that if there’s a word in the English-speaking world that describes this particular flavour, readers of the Mirror quite likely know about it.

B.C. business man believes hatcheries can help bring back the fish

The question came up when I was trying to decide between two kinds of fish at a local eatery. I was told that one was “fishier,” but fishy in a good way, something difficult to explain because no word seems to exist to convey this taste sensation.

To say that something tastes or smells “fishy” generally means it’s unfresh, or that something’s not quite right about it. According to etymonline.com (an online etymology resource), the use of this term in the sense of “shady or questionable” was first recorded in 1840, possibly owing to the slipperiness of fish, if not the distinct smell of fish that’s past its prime.

It has been said that the world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo – once the world’s largest wholesale seafood marketplace – never had a fishy stench, even though millions of kilos of fish changed hands there daily.

READ MORE: Federal officials showcase ‘health audit’ at fish farm northeast of Campbell River

One explanation was that the seafood was fresh and the facilities were clean, with the fish on ice and washed continuously. The Tsukiji market’s open structure also reportedly provided natural ventilation.

It has since been replaced by a new wholesale fish market called the Toyosu, which made headlines this month when workers complained of unbearably foul odours. An official from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government reportedly stated the stench was inevitable due to the building’s airtightness.

One food-service worker also informed me that a good rule of thumb for sushi is that the restaurant should smell like cucumber or watermelon – not fish – if the seafood there is really fresh.

As for the taste of good, yet fishy, fish: I found a discussion on this topic on Reddit, an online forum for discussions of important issues like this one.

READ MORE: NDP leader Jagmeet Singh weighs in on Vancouver Island fishing ban

There were a few suggestions: someone noted that “piscine” is an adjective suitable for anything related to fish. This is true, but the word doesn’t really capture that good-yet-fishy flavour.

Someone else suggested “umami” – a Japanese word meaning “deliciousness” that has entered the English lexicon to indicate a savoury taste sensation. But this is too general, as it could just as well apply to any number of non-seafood products.

There are also folksy expressions like “tastes like the sea” or “tastes like the dock,” which I personally favour. But these could arguably mean anything ocean-related, including barnacle-covered wharves made of wood.

The best suggestions I’ve heard so far are “marine,” “oceanic” and “aquatic.” But maybe we need to need to look beyond the English language to settle this question. Or perhaps the right word hasn’t been invented yet. Please send your suggestions.

@davidgordonkoch
david.koch@campbellrivermirror.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Georgia Park students keeping their heads up after another case of vandalism

Bird and bee houses torn off the trees and smashed, but the kids bounced back and put more up

Brind’Amour/Nugent-Hopkins golf tourney in Campbell River raises $122,000

Fundraiser for cystic fibrosis has raised roughly $1.8 million since it started 24 years ago

Elusive ‘ghost whale’ surfaces near Campbell River

Local ecotourism operator captures images of the rare white orca

Campbell River gallery provides taste of Syria for many senses

Afternoon event features music, dance, food and more from the Middle Eastern Country

Campbell River teen on the mend a year later

Jonah Shankar’s treatment for brain tumour involved trips to UK

Campbell River gallery provides taste of Syria for many senses

Afternoon event features music, dance, food and more from the Middle Eastern Country

Victoria mom describes finding son ‘gone’ on first day of coroners inquest into overdose death

Resulting recommendations could change handling of youth records amidst the overdose crisis

Dash-cam video in trial of accused cop killer shows man with a gun

Footage is shown at trial of Oscar Arfmann, charged with killing Const. John Davidson of Abbotsford

Suicide confirmed in case of B.C. father who’d been missing for months

2018 disappearance sparked massive search for Ben Kilmer

Eight U.S. senators write to John Horgan over B.C. mining pollution

The dispute stems from Teck Resources’ coal mines in B.C.’s Elk Valley

Threats charge against Surrey’s Jaspal Atwal stayed

Atwal, 64, was at centre of controversy in 2018 over his attendance at prime minister’s reception in India

Anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to speak in Surrey

He’s keynote speaker at Surrey Environment and Business Awards luncheon by Surrey Board of Trade Sept. 17

Otters devour 150 trout at Kootenay hatchery

The hatchery has lost close to 150 fish in the past several months

B.C. church’s Pride flag defaced for second time in 12 days

Delta’s Ladner United Church says it will continue to fly the flag for Pride month

Most Read