Friday, August 17, 2012

Sydney, Part II (Australia)

Sydney's Fish Market is the second largest in the world behind Tokyo's. As a seafood lover and hobby cook, I couldn't resist the Behind the Scenes tour, despite the 6:45 am start time. The demographics of the tour group were particularly amusing – a bunch of Asians and a couple of Frenchmen. But really, who else would be eager to get up so early to look at fresh caught fish? Fisherman in Australia are now required to land 100% of their catch so the Fish Market Seafood School and other outreach programs have been working to educate Sydneysiders (as the locals are known) and visitors on how to prepare and appreciate all the riches of the sea. The seafood is sorted, weighed, graded, and crated on the floor, and various suppliers and buyers can wander through examining the lots before the auction begins at 5:30 am. The auction itself is complicated, and the big screens, stadium seating, and panel of buttons at each place look more akin to an off-track betting operation. Most lots are sold in reverse auction (or “Dutch” auction since it was popularized for selling tulips), where the price starts high and winds down on the screen until someone presses “stop” and wins. Other lots start high, wind down, and then confusingly go up again as interested buyers outbid each other. Weaving through the stacks of crates, the tour guide picked up interesting specimens, explaining how they are caught and giving tips on buying and preparing them. In the sashimi pavillion, we saw the big fish that would be auctioned as single lots: gorgeous sushi-grade tuna, swordfish, and even a couple of mako sharks!

Though the city is known for its life on the waterfront, Sydney's greenspaces are nothing to be sneezed at either. Hyde Park, named for the one in London, is centrally located and home to the Anzac Memorial. At various times, but most significantly in World War I, Australia and New Zealand troops (or “Anzacs”) fought for the British crown... often it seemed with devastating consequences under their British commanding officers. The Royal Botanic Gardens and the adjacent Domain also had their origins in colonial times but now are big, beautiful parks with prime locations in downtown Sydney. Many of the Brit expats (a.k.a. “Poms” in Aussie-speak) were so homesick that the section that grows plants native to their “green and pleasant land” was and continues to be one of the most popular in the Royal Botanic Gardens.

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