Food: Something Smells Fishy

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Arbroath Smokies

Arbroath Smokies

Against her better judgement, vegetarian Anna Docherty sniffs out the farmers’ market.

There’s a distinct muskiness in the air. It’s the kind of smell that old men often get blamed for. Or for which dogs receive pitying stares. Sweaty, smoky and sharp, the smell of Arbroath smokie envelops the farmers’ market. Iain Spink, the stall owner responsible for the whiff, is unashamed. He believes that his smokies are the best in Edinburgh and well worth the pong they produce. He is the fifth generation of an Arbroath family who have been smoking haddock in this traditional way for over 100 years, cooking them over a whisky barrel.

Being vegetarian, I have an ethical issue with eating meat. But when it comes to fish, my issue is more that it smells too much for me to allow it anywhere near my mouth. But I like the idea of this smokie, because it is as fresh and Scottish as it comes, plus there is something beautiful and heartbreaking about seeing the little fish strung up by their tails and hung over a hulking great wooden barrel. I like to imagine there was a romantic element to the way they perished, unlike the sorry looking pig at the stall nearby – with an intact head, legless body and a scored back burnt to a crackling crisp.

The farmers’ market is about fresh Scottish produce at its best, with Spink gutting, salting and smoking the fish on the day. And there is something irresistible about seeing your food cooked from scratch. ‘Buy a fish from me and you know where it’s been and what it is, it’s not like a dodgy fast-food burger,’ he says.

Another sure fire tactic to make your wares seem even more special is turning up only every now and again – like the tooth fairy, Easter bunny or, the biggest tease of them all, Santa Claus. The Arbroath smokie man is as famous and just about as reliable as all of them. Like some mythical character, he appears only occasionally in a billow of smoke, ready to grant you a fishy wish. Sounding like the star of some cryptic fairytale, he explains his opening hours to me: ‘I come the fourth Saturday of every month that falls with five Saturdays.’ Erm, see you there, then?

Farmers Market,
Castle Terrace, 0131 652 5940, www.scottishfarmersmarkets.co.uk, every Sat, 9am–2pm.

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