Archeological records suggest that humans have been preparing and eating seafood for at least 165,000 years, and it’s safe to say we’ve gotten pretty good at it. Some of the world’s greatest delicacies come from our planet’s oceans, lakes and rivers, from elegant slices of sashimi in Japan to meaty lobster rolls in Maine.
Tuck in to Lonely Planet’s of-fish-ial list of top spots for chowing down on seafood, and experience some of the unique local cultures this fishy fare feeds into.
Tsukiji's sashimi is worth braving an early start for © Patrick.Wong / Shutterstock
Sashimi at dawn at Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market
There are vanishingly few things in life worth getting up at 3am for; seeing the tuna auction at Tokyo’s hallowed Tsukiji Market – the world’s largest fish market – is one of them. The auctioneers chant and wave their hands, in an almost dance-like fashion, as prospective buyers solemnly examine the wares with small flashlights.
Post-auction head to one of the market’s food stalls for a classic Tsukiji sashimi breakfast. Glistening slices of tuna, salmon wedges the color of sunrise, tender shrimp, unctuous little heaps of uni (sea urchin) – it’s a work of art on a plate.
For the seafood specialist: Brave the queue for a bite at Daiwa Sushi, the market’s most popular sushi bar.
New York City's iconic Grand Central Oyster Bar © littlenySTOCK / Shutterstock
Oysters in Grand Central Station, New York City
Train station fare is not generally the stuff of ‘top lists’; the Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant is different. All echelons of society have been slurping up shellfish beneath this restaurant’s iconic vaulted ceiling for 100 years. Choose from more than 200 oyster varieties in rotation, from sweet, creamy Oregon Kumamotos to briny Malpeques from Canada’s Prince Edward Island.
Served over ice with wedges of lemon, they’ll fill your mouth with the taste of the sea and briefly buoy you to the status of a Big Apple big shot. Wash them down with a martini then rejoin the rabble for a brief gawk at the famous constellation ceiling in the Grand Concourse.
For the seafood specialist: Late afternoon happy hour (4.30-7pm Mon-Wed, 1-5pm Sat) means delectable Long Island blue points for just $1.25.
It might sound like the stuff of nightmares, but the hairy crab is a dreamy delicacy in Shanghai © Orgrimmar / Getty Images
Feast on hairy crab in Shanghai
Come October in Shanghai and the entire city goes gaga for a fist-sized crustacean known by the somewhat unappealing moniker ‘hairy crab’. Prized for their gooey, bright-orange roe, hairy crabs are only available for about two months of the year and seafood restaurants capitalise on the fleeting delicacy.
Some diners prefer the firmer, cooked-egg-yolk-like roe of the female crab, while others favour the creamier male roe. Both have a rich, buttery taste that pairs well with huangjiu, a wine made of fermented grains, or hot ginger tea.
For the seafood specialist: Splash out on the legendarily lavish hairy crab buffet at 250-year-old Wáng Bǎohé Jiǔjiā.
Browse the catch of the day at the port stalls in Essaouira, Morocco © pixinoo / Shutterstock
Enjoy the freshest fish for lunch in Essaouira
Practically every corner of this whitewashed, windswept Moroccan coastal town is just begging to be photographed. No place more so than the postcard-perfect port, where blue fishing boats bob gently at their moorings and rows of seafood stalls hawk gleaming piles of prawns, dorados, eels, sardines and more.
Pick the produce you want and vendors will cook it up for you and deliver it to your picnic table. Tear into grill-blackened fish with generous squeezes of lemon, mopping up the juices with hunks of freshly-baked bread. Just don’t forget to take a picture first!
For the seafood specialist: When selecting your fish, be sure to ask for the price upfront before agreeing to the purchase.
The Maine lobster roll is a mouthwatering seafood fave © f11photo / Shutterstock
A lobster roll road trip in Maine
The classic Maine lobster roll is a thing of beauty. In its most basic (and, dare we say, best) form, it’s nothing but hunks of fresh lobster meat with a slick of mayonnaise, served on a griddled and buttered split top hot dog bun.
At the height of Maine summer, you can find lobster rolls at restaurants, seasonal pop-up stalls and seafood shacks up and down the state’s more than 200 miles of coastline. So why not make a road trip of it, sampling rolls from Bob’s Clam Hut in the southern town of Kittery to Quoddy Bay Lobster in Eastport, spitting distance from Canada?
Start with an icy sea swim, followed by a sweat session in the sauna, all topped off with a plate of herring – a perfect Finnish day out © EricLatt / Getty Images
Try a traditional post-sauna snack in Finland
The sauna is practically the national religion of Finland, a country where 99 percent of the population logs at least one steamy session a week. And what better way to replenish yourself afterwards than with another Finnish tradition, a plate of salty herring?
Head to the Allas Sea Pools in central Helsinki, where you can take a dip in the icy Baltic then sweat it out in the electric saunas. When you’re sufficiently relaxed, amble next door to the Kauppatori (market square) and score a plate of sweet-and-sour marinated herring, eaten on dense brown bread with mustard and dill.
For the seafood specialist: Hit the Kauppatori in early October to catch the Herring Fair, where fishermen have been selling their fresh fish for nearly 300 years.
When in Peru, do as the locals do and tuck into this Limeno favourite © jopstock / Getty Images
Take a ceviche tour in Peru
Chunks of the freshest raw fish, tossed with onions and marinated in lime juice, ceviche is so beloved in Peru it even has its own holiday (28 June is National Ceviche Day). The delicacy is said to be derived from a dish brought to Peru in the early 16th century by the Moorish women who traveled with the Conquistadors, but nobody knows for sure.
What is certain is that it’s delicious: soft, tangy and chilli-spiked. In Lima, there’s a cevicheria on practically every street corner, serving the dish with its traditional accompaniments of boiled corn and sweet potatoes. Every Limeño has their own favourite spot – ask around and try for yourself.
For the seafood specialist: El Verídico de Fidel in Miraflores is a wildly popular hole in the wall across from Lima’s football stadium.
Jellied eels used to be a staple among London's Eastenders © Monkey Business Images / Getty Images
Ingest eels with a side of local history in London’s East End
Fish and chips may get all the attention in the UK, but for a true taste of British history head to one of London’s few remaining traditional ‘pie and mash’ shops. Here you can sample the dish working class Londoners have been dining on for hundreds of years: cold jellied eels, served alongside meat pie and mashed potatoes. The Thames once teemed with masses of slippery eels, which became a staple for those who couldn’t afford meat. Today, a handful of century-old East End shops still serve eels – chopped and set in their own jelly with a dash of chilli vinegar – to nostalgic locals and curious visitors.
For the seafood specialist: Victorian era M Manze is a classic spot, with antique tile walls and a chalkboard menu
A Bajan man preparing a conch © PJPhoto69 / Getty Images
Join the locals at a fish fry in the Bahamas
The weekend fish fry is one of the quintessential Bahamian experiences. Come Friday afternoons, vendors set up in parks or vacant lots, and by evening the whole place is alive with the smell of frying oil and the beats of goombay music. Try the ‘cracked conch’ – chunks of chewy tropical marine mollusc battered and fried a deep golden brown; conch salad, a piquant mix of marinated conch, tomatoes and onions; and all manner of crispy fish fritters. Wash it down with a local Kalik beer or a ‘sky juice’ – gin with coconut water and a glug of sweet condensed milk. Just don’t leave before the dancing starts!
For the seafood specialist: The Smith’s Point fish fry in Freeport is a favourite with both locals and tourists.
Mussels act as a natural filter, removing harmful chemicals from the ocean © MintImages / Shutterstock
Top tips for enjoying your seafood sustainably:
- Look for products with MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) and ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council) certifications.
- Opt for produce caught using pole-and-line or handline methods.
- If in doubt, ask the seller. A top-quality vendor should be able to provide information about the origins of the seafood and how it was caught.
- Eating locally sourced fish reduces the carbon footprint from export/import.
- If you’re concerned about which fish to eat and which to avoid, the Marine Conservation Society’s ‘Good Fish Guide’ is an excellent resource.
- In particular, it is advised to avoid eating yellow and bluefin tuna, as well as Atlantic cod, shark and orange roughy.
- Clams, mussels and oysters grown on a rope are excellent options for seafood fans, as they actually help to clean the oceans by removing harmful chemical elements like carbon, phosphorus and nitrogen.
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