Fishing in Public

High on Seaweed

Hey folks. How’s it going with your bad ass? I’m alright. I been down yet again but not out, mercy sakes.

Dear me, I’m always amazed how much we still got to learn about our fantastic ocean. Take, for instance, this. I was reading a past-dated news rag and checking out Mark Trail (you know who I mean, been around forever and a day). Well, Mark is going on about how there’s a fish known as a bonnethead shark that, while being like most sharks in their eating behavior, also consumes sea grass. No shit — 60 percent of his total diet. He’s practically a vegetarian! Who would have thought, huh?

Well, I’ll tell you who thought. Them folks up in the country of Wales have been chowing down on sea greens since the 1500s. Oh yeah, and Asians for who knows how long, though first documented around 2000 B.C. Christ knows how far back it’s actually been since people started eating seaweed — since they got hungry, I suppose. And you don’t gotta pass the salt, do ya?

Very versatile plants, I must say. And Maine is a big part of the seaweed movement. We got some of the coldest, cleanest water in the whole wide world. Plus we got something left of a fishing fleet and processing infrastructure already here. Pretty much all’s you need for burgeoning seaweed operations.

You know, many years ago I busted into what I thought was an abandoned warehouse, but which was actually stuffed floor to roof with bales of dry seaweed, and I oft wondered about it. Now I know there’s 250 types of edible seaweed in the Gulf of Maine, two of which are the “big guns,” so to speak, rockweed and sea vegetables, each with their own peculiarities and uses. A lot of this goes into becoming a food additive for things like soup, or as a supplemental extract in products too many to mention. My favorite is Jell-O. There’s also a lot of talk of seaweed reducing the incidence of breast cancer.

There’s 10 companies involved in processing “sea veggies” (author’s phrase), and there’s a market for seaweed right here in Portland, down on India Street. It’s called Heritage Seaweed, and this is where my education regarding sea veggies really begins. Its location is actually the same building as the old bait-and-tackle shop I wrote about when they moved out to Veranda Street [“The Tackle Shop,” Oct. 2017]. Surprises never do cease.

Anyhow, upon entering the store I am greeted by two things. To my left is a rack of something called nori, which is a big name in sea veggies. And straight ahead is a charming girl whose moniker is Kat. I couldn’t have asked for a friendlier guide/tutor in the way of sustenance from the sea. She possesses the trait of knowing what she’s talking about without rubbing it in. Graciousness, I guess would be the key word. And she’s also got what I’ll call the strength of her convictions. She’d like to show all of us how good seaweed can be.

Let me apologize right off — I can no fuckin’ way describe each particular ocean item in the store. There’s simply too much to deal with. Not only the ’forementioned nori stuff, but laver and some other grub known as kombu, which claims to have the most nutrients and minerals of all. I wonder if devouring seaweed could have kept shipwreck survivors alive. More food for thought.

OK, back to the market. Kat is convinced that seaweed is the next wave of the future, hopefully with Maine leading the way. If there’s more folks like Kat around, it will be for sure! Besides being a beneficial additive, many folks just like to eat plain seaweed. Not your cup of tea? Not to worry. The shop devotes space for cookbooks with recipes for all kinds of dishes using sea veggies, and a section for oysters if you dig ’em. There’s also books and puzzles for the tots in your life.

Not looking too sporty of late? Well, there’s facial creams and makeup doodads made with seaweed. Loose doggies? A section of reclaimed ropes takes care of that. I guess by now you’re getting my drift, huh? You know it’s time for dessert, and me being the self-gratifying type, I naturally opt for the seaweed fudge. And it’s fuckin’ good. Real good. And it’s not just me saying this. My first assistant and good friend Robert wholeheartedly agrees. He describes it as “savory.” Direct quote.

Before I leave, I ask Kat, “How’s business in general?” She replies that the holidays have been good for the store and the cruise ships real swell as far as carry-out. I gather a few folks go in to visit outta simple curiosity also, which is always a good thing. Like I say about buying local — when you shop at Heritage Seaweed, you are providing for local fishermen, sea farmers, whatever. You can really take heart in that, believe me.