Nothing says street food to me more than tiny fish boiled in oil, and that’s what I had today, playing the flaneur with Dear One on our fifteenth anniversary. I love street food: anything in a trolley with a canopy over it I will eat. The fish stall advertised calamars and eparlans. Were eparlans clams? I knew they weren’t oysters. Whatever they were, they had come out of the water, and they would be plunged in boiling oil in mesh baskets by a man in a paper hat, and I would eat them standing up, and they would be red-hot, and this was day 57 in my year of daily doing something new, so I ordered them.
They looked like capelin, but it turned out they were smelt. I had eaten smelt in Labrador – I went ice fishing for them myself with a Labrador fisherman. Smelt, I discover upon looking at diagrams, have mouths that gape back beyond their eyes, whereas capelin do not.
Capelin are oceanic, but I think smelt are estuarial. Anything of an estuary is meant to swim in my bloodstream. An estuary is a transitional zone, a place of rockpools, salt and freshwater. A place whose shape is forever shifting and whose atmosphere swells and dissolves. There is no permanence, and the light is silver. Is it an illusion? Somewhere in my imagination fishermen fish for smelt in temporary shacks that they haul onto the ice-covered St. Lawrence. The ice will melt. The shack will disappear.
What I love about street food is that you eat it in a crowd, it is wrapped in paper, there is music and noise around it, it’s cheap, you have to give some to the dog, it fills the air with smoke, they have it in every country, it is irresistible, and it will vanish the second the world ends and not a moment before or after.