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Purely Dominica

Purely Dominica

Chopped Fish versus filleted Fish

Editor’s note: I’m not a complainer. Really, I’m not. But having lived my first 68 years in the USA, I find that things being different take me some getting used to. Understand, please, I’m not asserting that “different” is wrong. It’s probably right for here; only I’m unused to it.

So, I’m sucking it up and learning to accept those different things. Still, I think it may amuse Dominicans reading this and help inform and prepare Americans, and Europeans and other “1st-worlders” wishing to settle here as well. I’ll write about those differences – big and small – from time to time, and will preface it with this paragraph so that you know I’m not complaining.

Difference #1:: Chopping fish versus filleting them. I know that the Dominican way, which is to chop fish, wastes no meat. But I was raised in a culture where fish bones in a meal of fish were considered distasteful at best and a deadly choking hazard at worst.

I was raised on the Atlantic shore and earned money during school summer vacations working on “head boats” where tourists (fares paid by the head) were taken out to try fishing; and I earned extra tips filleting fish they caught and wanted to take away to eat. I fillet my fish and when I eat fish I break the meat using the edge of my fork because if there’s a bone I’d find it that way. I positively hate finding a bone in a mouthful of fish.

A Dominican friend of mine says he enjoys sucking the meat from a fish-bone in his mouth. That’s how he was raised. I understand the difference, and that Dominicans are appalled by the manner in which I waste meat by filleting fish; and they’re right. I’m wrong, but I will continue to fillet my fish. If I can get it done at the market, everyone is happier. I have no fish offal to dispose of and the fellow at the market earns a couple of extra dollars (as I did as a boy) filleting the fish for us.

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Comment by andrew
2009-09-29 10:19:21

Here, in NA, we eat fast, so there’s no time to suck the bones.
The Dominicans have lots of time, it seams to me.

Comment by Dan
2009-09-29 11:37:02

Where are you in the NA? Ruth and I were in Bonaire once. It was lovely for snorkeling and flamingo-watching, but it was a desert island. The people were nice. Check out our slide show at

I also lived in a commune in Leiden, the Netherlands for a while when I was a young hippie. See

Comment by pete
2009-09-30 05:36:34

Dan, first of all have fish your way, totally. Any way you want, and don’t feel like you have to fit in to enjoy the fish the way you have been used to. Granted some of the way it is prepared and cooked at home may be considered cultural but not unique to Dominica. Plus many of the population have the smaller fish since it can be more available and cheaper too. By and large however, presentation at most restaurants are certainly acceptable to most foreigners and tend to be the larger fish.

Just as many Dominicans may never consider cooking and eating their potatoes with the skins on; or eating raw fish (sushi), as appealing, or desirable, so too it is understandable that fish with lots of bones can be inconvenient or even distasteful to some. Indeed there are many Dominicans who do not like it that way, so lets not cast a wide net on this. Similiarly, Europeans found it intriguing and strange watching the indigenous ‘Indians’ blowing smoke through their noses centuries ago, yet adopted it…and cigarette smoking became socially acceptable (at least for a while, until discovered as unhealthy). Some things take getting used to, but does not make it wrong or right.

Back to the fish… noted that fish come in many sizes and shapes, some with lots of bones, some without any. So it does not mean that all fish is eaten on the island leaving a mouthful of bones. Personally, for certain types of larger fish (mahi mahi, tuna, swordfish etc) with few bones, I do not see eating it (unfilleted) any less distasteful than chicken bones. Minor inconvenience, possibly, but even easier than eating chicken wings or things. Me personally, although I live in the US, I am at ease having my fish any way, and would not be revolted by the bones if it happened to be prepared that way.

Finally, Andrew, Dominicans are not spending time sucking on bones in general for a meal. Indeed Dominicans love fast food like everywhere else, and in such cases fast foods of choice tend not to be fish meals. But in the privacy of their own home, certainly people may take their time and enjoy a healthy meal whichever way it is cooked.

So Dan, enjoy it your way…but its not a bad idea to try it the other way sometime, maybe with the larger fish…takes getting used to, agreed, but you may actually be faced with that situation socially sometimes…particularly if you remain on the island and happen to be hungry at that particular time.

Comment by Dan
2009-09-30 08:53:00

I was thinking about smaller fish, in the 1 to 10 pound range when I wrote this. I eat sardines and anchovies, etc whole, bones & all. And of course I eat tuna, marlin, swordfish steaks with the large central bone in. Thanks for your comment!

Comment by Peter
2009-10-11 21:09:37

Well, the US culture is the only culture that I know that emphasize fish (and seafood in general) to be filleted and fried as much as it is. Especially in black African American culture, I’ve found.

But just as a chicken will taste better if you grill it whole with bones and all, fish taste better this way as well. That is, if you like fish. I mention this because many Americans can’t stand when it smells “fish”, and can only accept it if it’s well hidden, neutral tasting, and drenched in Tartar sauce or something else that conceals the property of the fish.

Personally I find it refreshing to eat fish here in the Caribbean where you can see what it is that you eat, and smell it too. The problem I find, and I constantly have this debate with my US born wife, is that the average US born person in my experience haven’t learned how to properly fillet a cooked or grilled fish (like a snapper, for example). It’s really easy but she refuses to learn it (I learned it as a 10 year old). And I mention this having lived 10 years in a town known for its seafood, San Francisco.

In French style cooking common in Europe, fish is sometimes filleted but the head and bones are kept for stock to make a sauce or soup to be used later, and there is no waste. In the US, most people would probably buy readily made fish stock or a powder in the store would they need it. But this is the difference between the US and the rest of the world, US is largely a prepackaged society that have come a long way from the root of what they/we eat.

(I’m a Swedish born African American living in the Cayman Islands, on my way to vacation soon in Dominica and am therefore perusing this site)

Comment by Peter
2009-10-11 21:11:18

I just thought of something. Maybe it’s different down in Louisiana? /pt

Comment by Dan
2009-10-12 09:32:35


I quite agree with you regarding fish stock, and I often steam or boil fish, or grill it, etc.

I did live in LA for a couple of years, but I grew up on the NJ seashore.

Please look us up when you’re in Dominica; perhaps you’re interested in renting our vacation apartment.

Sweden is nice. I’ve been there and have taken Ruth too.

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