3 min

Sea change

There’s a chance that our fine finned friends might feel left out of all this meat worship. Far be it from us to neglect the dazzling purveyors of fresh fish this city has to offer.

Tuna and shrimp on ice at Hooked. Credit: Jamo Best

206 Baldwin St & 888 Queen St E

Kensington Market has a history of being a bit hit-and-miss when it comes to fishmongers. It was generally easy to tell which ones to avoid in days past: the cut-rate prices, the filthy floors and a pong so strong that you rushed out, eyes streaming and gasping for fresh air. But as newer shops like Sanagan’s Meat Locker set a high standard for hygiene and variety, other like-minded places are beginning to take hold.

In fact, the first thing I notice about Hooked when I enter is the lack of a fishy smell. It’s a small space, with an old-fashioned cooler window and vintage-wood floors — in fact, the very space that Sanagan’s started out in
before moving to larger premises a few doors down. The next thing I notice is a sign stating the shop’s unusual philosophical approach to selling their wares. Sales associate Mikhail Williams explains: “Everything here is ethically caught, using no-troll methods. The farmed fish are from low-population communities, and there are no antibiotics used.”

These concepts are frankly new to me, but a little research shows there is quite a movement among fishers and vendors to ensure sustainable and responsible practices within the profession. Small boats are favoured, with direct relationships encouraged between suppliers and consumers.

Hooked’s produce follows these guidelines, without seeming much more expensive than Loblaws or Metro. Plus, it looks and smells a whole lot more appetizing. Along with staples like steelhead trout and wild salmon, Hooked offers baseball-sized chunks of ahi tuna and a variety of oysters. You can also place special orders for exotic items like arctic char pastrami or chow down on their ready-made crab cakes.

Judging by the stream of customers, people are willing to pay a little more for products that support independent fishermen as well as the fish schools themselves. “I think more people are moving in this direction,” Williams says. “People care about what they eat and where it comes from.”

De La Mer Fresh Fish Market
291 Roncesvalles Ave & 1543 Bayview Ave

It’s kind of hard to miss this fish market when you’re walking down Roncesvalles, with its front window a veritable wall of racing water bubbles. I half expect a little red lobster to start singing about life under the sea when I walk through the door but am greeted by a perfectly ordinary, friendly human. There’s a large selection of fresh fish and seafood, from regular cod fillets to succulent-looking scallops. De La Mer also stocks house-smoked trout and a variety of sauces and marinades. They do special orders and offer smoked salmon platters, shrimp rings and other party favourites.

Bill’s Lobster Fish Market
599 Gerrard St E

Like the sign says, this place sells a lot of lobsters, along with a respectable selection of other fish and seafood. I have to admit I’m never crazy about seeing the poor buggers swimming around their little tanks in stores or restaurants, but then I remember there’s a reason they have to tie elastic bands around their wicked claws. Cuddly and kind they’re not. Still, I can’t face boiling one of them alive, so instead I walk out with a bag of scallops that prove to be among the freshest and sweetest I’ve ever cooked. The owner and his wife are happy to advise when it comes to selection and recipes, and it’s obvious why this neighbourhood favourite has been around for more than 10 years.

St Lawrence Market
92 Front St E

It’s difficult to profile just one fishmonger at the market, as they all seem to specialize in different things, depending on stock and availability. That being said, it’s hard to go wrong picking up fish and seafood at this historic marketplace. How they manage to cram so much seafood into one area without it stinking to high heaven, I will probably never know. But they do, and the St Lawrence Market remains one of the prime destinations for fresh fish and seafood in the city.