From Friars to Fryers
Just as the swallows return to Capistrano, and the buzzards to Hinckley, so too are we blessed with the annual tradition of the Friday Fish Fry returning to Lakewood. Drive down Madison and Detroit and you’ll see what I mean. With such a dominant presence of Bar and Church within our city limits, you’re never more than six days and six blocks away from a batter-dipped blending of faith and food.
For those not familiar, the tradition stems from the observance of Lent, a Christian season of both penance and preparation that runs from Ash Wednesday through Holy Week and ends with the celebration of Easter. Although there are similarities amongst several religious affiliations, the most visible cause of this phenomenon comes from the Catholic faith where Canon Law calls for everyone ages 15 to 59 to abstain from meat on Friday (Can. 1249-1253).
In many of the Protestant faiths, there is no deference toward a specific food or day of the week. Instead the focus is on giving up a prominent habit or going without a routine item of comfort. Along the same lines as the traditional Islamic fasting during Ramadan, the point is for believers to make a personal sacrifice in the hopes that they will fill the void with a more devout focus on faith.
And whether or not you count yourself among those who partake in any of these traditions, I personally ask that you be very supportive of anyone who does. Generally speaking, it’s a good thing when an individual pauses to reflect on something greater than the self.
Regardless of the rationale behind this gastronomic anomaly, the beauty of the fish fry is that you don’t have to be a Christian to enjoy the embodiment of the tradition. Neither understanding nor acceptance is required to benefit from the event. All you need is a fork, a plate and a healthy supply of tartar sauce.
That said, why do I get the feeling that I lost many of you when I used the word “Christian”? Why is it that over the past few decades, religion has become perceived more as a source of division and skepticism than of unity and strength? Or is the uneasiness based in some other fear?
The world holds more than two billion Christians, over one billion Muslims, and hundreds of millions more that choose Judaism, Hinduism, or even Buddhism. So if religion makes you uneasy, I’m afraid you’re in for a long ride. On a global scale, those with spiritual faith dominate the planet. And the truth is that only a microscopic portion represents even the most remote threat to your personal safety or individual happiness. And in those specific cases, blaming their attitudes or activities solely on any particular religious foundation is frequently inadequate.
The point is, I take pride in living in a country and especially a community that can so exuberantly celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, and Oktoberfest. I love to attend a good Greek festival, enjoy eating in “Little Italy” and take great pleasure in listening to the many languages and dialects overheard at the coffee shop.
It’s time that diversity of religion be brought back to the same level of universal acceptability in today’s growingly secularized society. We shouldn’t be trying to take religious connotations out of our daily lives, we should add more in. We should go out of our way to find acceptable avenues through which more people can share and therefore demystify their sacred traditions.
Ignorance in this case is definitely not bliss. Ignorance is isolationistic. This is Lakewood, Ohio, one of the most densely populated suburbs in the nation, and one of the most diverse communities in the area. If you want to put your head down and avoid contact with those of a different background, you picked the wrong place to live.
So for those that have the stomach (both literally and figuratively), here are my tips for the Fish Fry “newbie”…First, with apologies to Chef Geoff, quantity in this case can easily trump quality. Let’s face it, whether it’s a church, restaurant, or bar, most locations will be serving the typical batter-dipped fillet. Unless you plan on working your way through the entire city to find one that serves up four-star cuisine, going with an “all you can eat” as opposed to a “special” definitely has its advantages.
Second, don’t sweat the location. Don’t be afraid to try one out just because it’s at a church. I’ve never been thrown out of any denominations’ festivities because of my own personal affiliation. And you shouldn’t avoid the bars just because you don’t drink alcohol. They won’t mind you ordering an iced tea. Once you’re in and eating, you’ll find out that they’re not strangers, but neighbors.
Third, leave your options open. Man can not live off fish alone. Always check to see if there are the typical accompanying side dishes to your liking (cole slaw, fries, etc). High on my list are any locations that also offer Pierogis.
And Last, when possible, take along friends and/or family. It’s like going to an Indians game--if you go alone, the hot dog tastes the same, but you’ve got nobody to hold your nachos when you have to go to the bathroom.
As for me, I’m not Catholic, but I gave up worrying about other people's beliefs for Lent. If your church, group, or establishment is hosting a fish fry please contact the paper to have it listed and maybe I’ll see you there.