Comments & Curiosities: Serving up the facts on fish fries

June 04, 2011|By Peter Buffa

Sixty-four years is a long time. That's how long Costa Mesa's annual Lions Fish Fry & Carnival has been around, and it is in full swing and full sizzle this weekend.

But do not delay, dawdle or procrastinate, because Sunday is the last chance for fish fry fanatics to do their annual deep-fried, carnival ride, kewpie doll-stuffed panda thing. In addition to the extreme fun factor, the Fish Fry raises about $50,000 for the Costa Mesa-Newport Harbor Lions Club, which supports a boatload of great organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs, Sea Scouts, various schools and the Home for Washed Up Italian-American Mayors.

Not really. I made the last one up.

According to board member Mike Scheafer, the Lions Club has fried up more than $2.5 million over the years, which is a lot of fish.


The Lions Fish Fry may be 64, but fish fries in general were invented about two weeks after water. No one knows who was the first person that said let's clear these trees, set up some tables, get some oil really hot and fry up about a zillion fish, or as they say in the South, a whole passel o' fish.

I've never met anyone who knows exactly what "passel" means, but speaking of the South, that is a place that claims to be where it all began — fishing then frying then fun. Then again, so does New England, and the Midwest, and we shall deal with each in turn.

In the land of grits, moon pies and RC Cola, a fish fry was a big rambunctious family/town gathering, where everyone pitched in to churn out the battered fish, fries, cole slaw and hush puppies. Where I come from, hush puppies were suede shoes that were sometimes cool, sometimes not, but in the South they are deep-fried seasoned corn fritters that look like a little ear of corn if they make them in a trick pan.

In the Midwest, the Friday night fish fry is a tradition, either at home or out, with beer being a major player. The Friday night twist actually originated in Catholic communities, as a reaction to meatless Fridays, which are long gone, but the fish fry parties on.

In the Northeast, the fish fry is a cousin to fish boils, which are not something fish get if they ride their bikes too long, but one more version of a family or community rager with giant cauldrons over wood fires on the beach filled to the brim with seafood, potatoes and vegetables.

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