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I wonder what Swordfish represents to you?

Remembering my childhood, in the suburbs of Melbourne, growing up as the daughter and granddaughter of Sicilian migrants, my mother Sarina used to cook Swordfish on a brasa di legnio, my nonno Gioaccino (most migrants where given a name that the Australians could be able to pronounce, my nonno was known as Jack) would chop the wood, while my mother Sarina prepared; u samuriggio, nonna Carmela would grab the fresh lemons from our tree.

In the meantime, my father Salvatore (Sam) had gone to the local fish market and bought some fresh swordfish.

This was a special occasion we would celebrate some festa; my father would fish during the week with his ‘compare’, who was also a fisherman, they would bring other fish such as local flounder, garfish, and calamari.

So, swordfish was very special to us in our family.

I found out later in my adult life, and the why.

My maternal grandfather was a tuna engineer, they used to call him Rais Stefano Salmeri, he fished with many fishermen in the town of Milazzo in Sicily.

It was called a ‘ngonia del tono’ di Milazzo, a small little corner where all the local fishermen fished. The bay was where all the tuna came in to lay their eggs so there was always bountiful of tunas coming into this bay, during its season.

Swordfish reminded my mother Sarina of her home, and her family that she had left to come to Australia.   

I wonder what kind of food reminds you of your family?  Or home?  Distant memories of your own childhood found in food?

Now many years later I feel very emotional, as it has become a deeper reflection of life, long ago and I look at it with different lenses.

As my mother Sarina prepared her ‘samuriggio’ this is what she called it, to me it was like a dressing, to her it was her mother’s recipe.

She would squeeze lemons from the garden, and drizzle virgin olive oil add a little salt, pepper and nonno Gioaccino’s fresh oregano, that he grew in our little veggie patch in our back yard. When we roasted the swordfish, she would place it in this ‘samuriggio’.

Picture by Beth Jennings

We would gather together outside around the fire roasting wild and I would see my mother go into a daze. Looking back who knows what she felt as a daughter leaving her parents to a strange place, and not seeing them for another 20 years.

Then coming home to Milazzo with two children no longer that young lady who left at 21 returning to her parents at the age of 41 with another life.

This was my projection of what I think it was, as my mother did not speak much, as I look back it would have been very painful it would open up a can of worms so we say.

At the age of 20 I came to Milazzo to stay for a year, 1980, when I walked through the ‘mercato’, I saw the swordfish!  With their heads all being displayed like the kings of the sea!

I missed my mother back home in Australia.

I felt a little of what she might have felt leaving everything to come to a new land with no understanding of the language and another culture outside of what she knew.

The swordfish reminded me of my mother Sarina and the times of my childhood as I was the same age as my mother at the time she left, I came to stay in Milazzo, I lived for a year.

Many years have passed and I come to Sicily and do a tour every year, I take people to see my homeland and the land of my ancestors as they hear me talk about Sicily so much that they want to come with me.

My family has all passed away now; all I have are the memories that keep me alive just like the fire roasting that swordfish years ago.

Its funny how Swordfish can trigger memories in life.

Walking through the Capo Mercato with my clients opens up memories of my family and who they were back in the times before my mother came to Australia.

The swordfish is still there, being displayed like the king that they are, I wonder if the tastes have changed?  As I do remember a different taste when I was young, but the samuruggio is what makes it absolutely delicious!

I cook this for my clients and even in Australia to keep the memories alive, many times I to have that gaze my mother Sarina had. I wonder if any of my children see that, if this will be continued into their own lives?

I know that the swordfish is a connection with my clients as when they look at swordfish they are reminded of their experience with me in Sicily.

They too will have stories to tell their friends and family.

Everyone has a story to tell, different than each other but yet, the emotions are as strong as the moment that you were introduced to the flavours.

Everyone has a story to tell, different than each other, for us as a child of migrants, food is very much connected to the memories and the emotions are as strong as the moment that you were introduced to the flavour.

It pops up to remind you.

Something as simple as Swordfish can evoke memories of our past or experiences in our life, funny to think that swordfish can be the time traveller of memories.

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