In Louisiana, we have the food seasons that nature gives us, with harvests so prodigious that clearly the only logical response is a feast, a fest or at least a party.
Then there are the food seasons that we make ourselves, through tradition, through custom that becomes ritual, through families who pass them on.
We are reaching the peak of one of those culture-made food seasons right now at the intersection of Lent, the local skill with fried seafood and the tendency of good times to coalesce wherever New Orleans people gather around food.
The Friday fish fry flows from a deep religious tradition, but it's also now part of the larger cultural landscape of our community, with an appeal that surpasses the idea of penance. It is springtime in New Orleans, the trees are bursting green, the hot weather has not quite shown up yet, the weekends are our own and on Fridays, there are fish to fry and fish fries to attend.
It’s not exactly hard to find a plate of fried fish in this town on any given day. But the Friday fish fry gives a humble dish structure and a new meaning.
It changes it from something you eat, to something you do.
It could simply be the lunch order for the office where someone hauls back a teetering tower of food cartons and the whole group takes that lunch break together, because it’s fish fry Friday. Or, it could be the outing to the neighborhood church, the one you attend or the one you usually drive past. On fish fry Friday, everyone is together.
It is a custom practiced around the world with roots as old as Christianity. Yet, it is also a tradition maintained by small communities and kept vital by the conviviality that people put into it.
It’s the people at the fryers, the ones with sandy golden fish fry up to their wrists, the ones taking orders at the folding tables or the kitchen window and even the ones who just show up to eat, with their kids freshly sprung from school or with their friends all rendezvousing to kick off the weekend. The character of the fish fry is in both the preparation and the partaking.
A plate of fried fish is not going to feel like much of a sacrifice, not here and not with some talented Louisiana hands at the fryer. But with the tradition and the people and the community they create together, this time of year that plate of fried fish definitely has power. With any luck, yours will come with some good potato salad, too.
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