Who Eats The Most Fish? And Why Do Spanish Supermarkets Smell So Bad…?

If you ask any German living abroad what food they miss most, they will tell you bread. For the Spanish, it’s fish. They are puzzled when they arrive in countries like Germany or the UK and can’t find sixty different types of crustaceans laid out in all their colourful glory at every supermarket fish counter. The paltry fish offering in the UK and Ireland is particularly disconcerting to a Spaniard, because on an island, there surely should be lots of fish…?!?

Spain has the second biggest per capita fish and seafood consumption in Europe –  In 2012, they managed 28kg (down from 33kg in 2007, as a result of the economic crisis). The Portuguese chomped their way through 47kg, and Taiwan, the world’s leading consumer, clocked an incredible 85kg per capita. The UK mustered just 13kg, Germany 9kg (about the same as Australians) and the US a meagre 5kg.

Fish CounterEvery Spanish supermarket features an enormous fish counter, situated a hair’s breadth from the entrance. So, the very first thing that hits you as you enter is an overpowering stench of fish. Now, if a UK or German supermarket decided to follow this strategy, it would be out of business in a week. Personally, I love fish, and I do enjoy gazing at Spanish supermarkets’ vibrant fish displays, but the smell turns my stomach every time.

In UK and German supermarkets the (comparatively) miniscule, sterilised and deodorised fish counter is usually situated somewhere at the back. And, in striking contrast to the Spanish scenario, as you step through the sliding doors, what usually floods your olfactory system is the delightful aroma of freshly baked bread. In German supermarkets, it’s the bakery that’s almost always by the entrance.

This is no accident – it’s is how grocery retailers in Germany and the UK entice shoppers into the store and attempt to ‘enhance the shopping experience’ of the weekly trolley trudge. (Translation: they try to make you hungry so you buy more. Works well with bakery, not so much with fish, though …).

Despite the delectable wafts emanating from the bakery section, however, there’s no proper baking going on in there. Oh no. Every twelve minutes, some gawky seventeen-year-old wrapped in a blue hairnet bungs a tray of factory-made, pre-baked ‘baguettes’ in the oven, and hey presto, the glorious smell just keeps on permeating the aisles. The fish never stood a chance.

Do any of you have any (wh)iffy supermarket observations to share…?

OK... maybe not ALL the fish is pretty...

OK… maybe not ALL fish is attractive…

[For data source click here]

25 thoughts on “Who Eats The Most Fish? And Why Do Spanish Supermarkets Smell So Bad…?

  1. rjschutte

    In Holland it is basically the same as in Germany. Bakeries are situated even before the entrance of the supermarkets of indeed, just after the entrance.
    The basic rule with fish is that fresh fish doesn’t smell. When you smell it, the fish is probably not that fresh anymore.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Yeah, once the oils start to degrade fish begins to reek… but I’ve never yet been into fishmongers anywhere that didn’t have that characteristic smell, at least to a minor extent. Not sure I could work in one of those places 😉

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  2. jessmittens

    I love walking in and smelling the bakery, mmm. Australia it’s the fresh fruit and vegetables and the bakery near the door, nest to each other.

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  3. con jamón

    Great post. There are good fishmongers to be had in London – Billingsgate is here after all, but, as you say, the choice is limited. However, if you can get four different types of prawn, sole, mullet, john dory, haddock, smoked fish, clams, cockles, crab, shrimps and so on – that’s pretty much all UK cooks will need to be honest. In fact, can you get cockles and whelks in Spain?!

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Thanks 🙂
      Yes, you can most certainly get cockles and whelks! Galicia is one of the best regions in terms of shellfish variety.
      Can’t wait to read about some of your observations once you’re a bit more settled.

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  4. bevchen

    I hate the smell of fish counters. Would much rather smell a bakery 😉 And the UK doesn’t need huge fish counters… we like to stick batter on our fish and serve it with chips 😉

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  5. pollyheath

    Russian stores definitely don’t have any such finesse! (And the Spaniards would probably be happy at the number of fish heads poking out of ice in each and every grocery.)

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  6. Homesick and Heatstruck

    I can’t understand why any supermarket would allow a fish counter that smelt so bad. There’s a Carrefour here in Dubai that STINKS of fish and rotting vegetables. It is not at all tempting to go inside. If it smelled of freshly baked baguettes I would spend a lot more money there!

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  7. Leonor

    I miss fresh fruits and vegetable. Stuff that was picked a few days ago and that didnt travel for weeks before reaching a markets stall. But bread in the Low Land is delicious!

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      I miss strawberries… Spanish strawberries are turnip-textured abominations that taste of nothing, I’m sure you know the kind. I used to assume that these were just for export, because they travelled well without bruising, and that they kept the good ones in the country for local consumption. I was wrong…!
      Do they grow anything locally where you are, perhaps in air-con greenhouses…?

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      1. Leonor

        Strawberries here are good, they re actually a sort of national pride! So are berries in general ( rainy country…) but impossible to find a zucchini lighter than 200 gr or a fresh fennel or artichoke… Even organic vegetables tend to be loaded with water and they taste as…water! Sigh!

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  8. Anna

    What I remember from Spanish stores is actually the giant ham legs hanging like a curtain. But yes, lots of fish and mariscos on the menus everywhere. Actually it was Belgium where I had a visual shock of these massive sea food stands outside stores and restaurants, and that ‘lovely’ smell…

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      And the ham smells pretty bad as well…whenever you enter a food shop of any kind, whether they sell fish or not, it gets straight up your nose. I do like ham!
      Might have to take a few pics of hanging ham…there’s a big restaurant round the corner where literally hundreds are dangling from the ceiling

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