Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Nochebuena feasting

We're in Florida for Christmas, and it's great to spend the holiday in a warm and sunny climate. Flip-flops, bathing suits and guayaberas are the proper attire, and the holiday menu is influenced by local culture.

In many Catholic cultures, it's customary to eat fish on Christmas Eve, or Nochebuena in Tampa's Cuban community. This city's rich cultural heritage includes 19th Century Cuban and Italian-American communities, more recent Caribbean immigrants, and a Greek-American community on the Gulf Coast. The warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico teem with abundance of fish and shellfish - making Tampa Bay one of the best places to be for anyone who loves seafood.

Fishing boats in Tarpon Springs
At just past ten in the morning of Christmas Eve, we pulled into the parking lot at Cox's Seafood on North Dale Mabry Highway and there was already a crowd of people waiting patiently outside the door. "Take a number," said one woman when I asked her how it worked, so I went in to the crowded store to grab a plastic card from the dispenser.  Our number was 83, and the counterman was helping customer number 44.

"Don't worry," said someone. "It goes pretty fast."

It certainly gave us time to look at the seafood case and check out everything on offer. There were big, whole red snappers and smaller perch and trout. There were three kinds of clams, mussels, and stone crab claws. There were steaks and filets of larger fish, like grouper and tuna.

The waiting crowd was patient and good-natured. There were elderly gentlemen in faded khaki slacks and golf shirts; there were bluff, thick-set shaven-headed men wearing basketball shorts and sport jerseys. There were stout grey-haired abuelas clutching shopping totes, goateed hipsters sporting full-sleeve tattoos, and soccer dads riding herd on impatient kids, who ran in and out of the store's swinging door. One elegant woman teetered on 4-inch bejeweled sandals as she waited with everyone else on the sidewalk. Some folks carried empty coolers, to keep their purchases for a long drive home. The Cuban grocery next door did a brisk business in soft drinks and ice cream bars while people waited.

It didn't take long - maybe an hour - to get our shrimp, a pound of crabmeat, and some tubs of seafood spread to serve on crackers.

We'll have some shrimp cocktail with home-made aoli; a crabmeat salad on stoned wheat thin crackers, and I'm making a beet, blood-orange and walnut salad.

We spent the afternoon putting together the feast, then off we went to Grandma's house!


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Happy Merry, Aunt Snow!

We had cod, halibut, and scallops.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

I hastily threw together some canned seafood and served it over orzo... not bad for something thrown together at work.