As a native Floridian, fresh seafood was almost an everyday occurrence. We learned how to fish early, were adept at digging clams and found catching blue crabs with a chicken neck, string and dip net much more fun than using a trap. Cleaning fish wasn’t a favorite pastime but it was tolerated so we could enjoy a tasty dinner. Our favorite meals were not fancy. Cooking pan-fried mullet with hush puppies takes a special skill – knowing the exact moment when the mullet is done to the point where the meat is still flaky, tender and easily falls away from the bones. One second too long and it gets tough. My favorite hush puppies are the small crunchy ones fried in the same fat (generally lard) that just cooked the fish. Shrimp and grits, baked flounder, steamed crabs and Minorcan clam chowder all were everyday fare at the beach house. Cold months brought oyster roasts with plenty of homemade cocktail sauce laced with datil peppers and trips to Papy’s or Colley’s restaurants for “St. Augustine fried shrimp”. All of that came to a screeching halt when I landed in Germany with my new husband after the Army assigned him to a facility located between Mannheim and Worms. We arrived in late October in what would be the coldest winter in decades. Dealing with the cold was bad enough, but finding fresh seafood was almost impossible.
In early April we took off to Holland for our first vacation. The goal was to visit the tulip festival with a stop in Amsterdam and a trip to the beach. In Amsterdam, we found a nice little hotel not far from the city center. My first question as we checked in was where can we find good fresh seafood. The clerk directed us downtown to a tiny place tucked away on a side street. When we walked in it reminded me of Ned’s old Malaga Street Depot with mismatched furniture and the menu posted on a blackboard – only here it was written in three different languages. I didn’t see anything on the board that remotely resembled shrimp. The waiter had to check with the chef but he came back with the news that we could have shrimp broiled in butter and garlic. We ordered the shrimp along with a bouillabaisse-style soup that was delicious. Just as we were finishing our soup, the waiter brought a dish full of large shrimp sizzling in butter with several garlic cloves . We were just digging in when he came back with another large dish for my husband. We took our time enjoying this special treat along with some appropriate local alcoholic libations. There was one more pleasant surprise yet to come. Our dinner bill – with drinks – came to the equivalent of $15.00. I was ready to make regular trips to Amsterdam just to enjoy the seafood. Fortunately we soon found a Spanish restaurant in Mannheim that flew their seafood in from Spain twice a week. And, when the Army finally brought us back to the States, out port of entry was Charleston, South Carolina. The first stop was a waterfront seafood restaurant.