At Rayan Seafood, you can select the fish, squid and whatnot that they'll cook for you
I love most seafood, but am wary of eating it. An environment worker I know stopped eating tiger shrimp because much of its farming destroys mangrove forests in Asia. Commercial fishing has grossly depleted fish stocks, farmed fish can be polluting and damaging to ecosystems. And Montreal, unlike Vancouver, doesn’t have restaurants boasting sustainable seafood menus.
But I wanted to try Rayan, a Middle Eastern seafood restaurant in which you belly up to a display counter, choose your dead specimen, then wait at a table for it to arrive cooked and tuck in. A great concept.
I brought with me Seachoice.org’s latest wallet-sized guide to seafood. At a glance you can see whether a fish is to be avoided, is a best choice or if there are some concerns. Unfortunately, not a lot of room is allowed for the nuances of, say, which wild Pacific salmon may have an endangered run that year, but it’s a start.
So, how to eat sustainably at Rayan? We walked into the large, blue-walled room with starfish-decorated nets hanging from the ceiling and made our way to the back to ogle the wide range of fish and seafood on ice.
A brusque man who looks as though he’s sampled a lot of his own fried wares asked us what we wanted and told us how we’d get them cooked. He begruntingly answered our questions about which fish were which.
Some were obvious, like red snapper with its rosy hue, or the impressive looking and clearly labelled Moroccan octopus, but mullet and porgy I’m less able to ID by sight. Our burly pal wasn’t exactly forthcoming about any fish’s provenance, so we stuck with what we knew to be sustainable. Squid, thick Lucite bracelets of it, scooped into a bin on a scale. A few sardines.
Once sitting at a table, we were brought mountainous sides of rice and salad, both salty and satisfying. The squid graced our table first, the loops now cooked down to the still-impressive size of large napkin rings, lightly breaded, chewy but not at all rubbery. Standard-issue ketchup and tartar were there for the dipping, but I enjoyed them best on their own.
Sardines came grilled and crusted with parsley and olive oil. I’ll admit I found the darker belly meat slightly bitter, but quite liked the oily white flesh. It’s a heavy fish for such a little one.
It’s possible to eat well with a clear conscience, but I wish more restaurants (and consumers) kept sustainability in mind more often. So do print out Seachoice.org’s wallet guide, ask questions and enjoy.
6080 Côte-des-Neiges; 514-735-6866
Meal for two: $20-$30