Many are familiar with the phrase farm to fork. In Palamos, Spain we learned firsthand the intricacies involved in bringing seafood from port to plate. At mid-afternoon our coach bus rolled up to the Museu de la Pesca, also known as The Fishing Museum. Our taste buds already had an appreciation for the bounty of the Mediterranean Sea from our experience with TBEX Europe in the city of Girona. Now we would have a chance to learn about the history of fishing and many interrelated industries derived from and adding to the vibrant culture of the Costa Brava.
In Palamos, visitors are reminded that business does not start or end at the docks. The site is unique in the Mediterranean region because it combines a vibrant port, active auction, bustling market, cooking demonstrations, excursions, and interactive museum all in one tidy space. Our guide, Mar, led us through the maritime themed displays and answered all questions cast her way.
The Fishing Museum in Palamos
First on our tour was the museum itself. We started with a ten minute video in comfortable theater seating. The audiovisual film was modern and lent a context to the world of fishing while outlining the five sections of the building. The Fishing Museum in Palamos seeks to pay homage to the sea and the men and women that earn their living from it. The Museu de la Pesca also wishes to open a dialogue between seafarers and the rest of the nation and world.
As we toured through the permanent collection and temporary exhibits it was like taking a walk through maritime history. We witnessed the dangers of the oceans but also the influences and contacts brought to Catalonian shores. We learned that the rectangular shaped building was originally built in 1935 and named tinglado, but was destroyed two years later during the Spanish Civil War.
Roles played by shipbuilders, caulkers, mechanics, net, barrel, sail, and rope makers are interwoven with the contributions of the workers who collect, preserve, and sell the bounty from the sea. Antiques of the trade including hooks, motors, hemp, aprons, diving suits, and octopus pots all represent that these various trades will be memorialized. Children enjoyed gazing at the San Juan and boarding the Estrella Polar. Both of these boats are on display at the museum.
Port life and the auction
The port itself is a hub of activity. It’s not merely a beachfront for vacationers, although we saw plenty of sunbathers, windsurfers, and paragliders during our visit. Boats and ships of all sizes moor in Palamos and fishermen spring into action. Lines are hurriedly tied as fish are cleaned and prepped for market and flocks of eager seabirds hover for scraps. The catch is loaded into crates and rolled onto the auction floor.
Mar explained the process as we watched conveyer belts rolling away different types of seafood. A worker sets the price and monitors inform prospective buyers on the pertinent details. The auction takes place Monday to Friday, twice a day and many of the buyers are on phones representing purchasers from far away. The food in front of us might be shipped inland to Madrid and eaten in a matter of hours. We had an opportunity to see the action of the auction from a room decorated by some of the 532 species native to the western area of the Mediterranean Sea.
Cooking demonstrations and the market
After another brief video about Catalan culinary influences we entered a dining area and kitchen. Ramon, a chef with an infectious smile, greeted us and delivered a cooking demonstration. He had whipped up a fisherman’s stew known as suquet de peix. The pickled, or escabetx, fish was delicious. The stew included ingredients such as carrots, peppercorns, and onions dancing around the mackerel.
Ramon told me he prefers fishing in the summer and cooking in the wintertime and he also mends nets. A stream of wine arced from a porron, a traditional Catalonian drinking vessel, into Ramon’s waiting mouth. Apparently he is skilled with foods and beverages. I challenged him to a porron pouring contest but we had to leave to check out the nearby market.
The market was in a rectangular room filled with rows of tables brimming with colorful prizes from the sea. Local vendors weighed, cut, and packaged the food which came from a small warehouse in the adjoining room. Cuttlefish, monkfish, langoustines, mussels, clams, and snapper sat side by side waiting for beckoning customers. It was close to dinnertime and business was brisk.
Our port to plate experience at The Fishing Museum gave me a complete appreciation for the steps which bring seafood to my table. Later that night we had a chance to go on a tapas pub crawl in Palamos bringing the lesson full circle. Thank you to Mar, the museum, and the professionals on the Costa Brava for our complimentary visit sharing your taste of paradise.