The smell of smoked fish pervades everything – a powerful, pungent aroma that blots out everything else. There are flowers on the restaurant table but their fragrance goes unnoticed. I am wearing perfume, my favourite that he gave me on our last anniversary, but to no avail. There is nothing here but fish.
This is fish city. This is where, for centuries, livelihoods have been won, families raised, painted houses bought and sold, young girls married and babies born, fishing vessels repaired and deals done. All of this has stood firm on the solid foundation of the day’s catch, be it herring, mackerel, shrimp or cod, and the skills that go with it. These essential tools have been handed down from father to son.
Rokerij Smit-Bokkum boasts a fine modern restaurant now on the very place where fish has been smoked for over a hundred years, on the shores of the Zuider Zee. Now, enclosed by its great circle of dykes and reclaimed land, the new Ijsselmeer still borders onto the old fishing harbour with its ancient fleet of fishing vessels still bearing the tell-tale VD (Volendam) registration that links it with this port. Now there is a new, skilfully designed marina with smart green-painted holiday houses mirroring the traditional style, where the rich can sail their yachts and experience the thrill of identification with the worthy citizens of this ancient fishing village. Along the dyke photographs can be taken, clad in traditional fisher-folk costumes. A taste of history for all – and a taste of fish.
Smoked fish of every kind, great delicacies, at a high price, can be enjoyed in modern Volendam. Its clientele are discerning and chic; its restaurant owners and businessmen (and women), canny and successful. An experience of nostalgia and local history can be expensive. If you can’t afford it you can get a taste of it in a mackerel or prawn broodje from the stall on the harbour front as you tumble from your tour bus.
The mist settles over the yacht harbour. A few lights are coming on now in the waterside residences. The view from this table by the window is a captivating one. “Alles naar wens?” inquires the waitress (“everything OK?”). We smile as we sip our fish-flavoured tea – a novel experience. All around us, it seems, everyone is busy eating the catch of the day and we are sharing in the experience, which will probably travel with us in our clothes and in our hair all the way home.
If you would like to read further entertaining musings on the ups and downs and thought-provoking quirks of life, check out my blog, Mostly Meditations.