Digby chicks

Parkdale, which is to say, the inner core of the Greater Parkdale Area, in which the High Doganate is located, is a melting pot of innumerable overlapping ethnications. Among our most exotic immigrants are those from the far east: Nova Scotia, for instance, and Newfoundland. Shopping, at least for food in Parkdale, is a treat. We have every sort of specialist grocery, and in effect, groceries within groceries. One gets one’s Tibetan yak sausage, for instance, from a Serbian butcher whose store is cowboy-themed; ingredients for one’s Somali maraq from the Sinhalese grocery (via their Maldivian connexion); but the exhilarating, cardamom-infused gashaato instead via the Sikh Punjabis, as supplement to their Bengali sweets. Note, this culinary cross-dressing is the opposite of multiculturalism. Rather I would call it, “downmarket fusion.”

This being Lent, I try to avoid fish on Fridays. There’s enough of that for the other days, beans on rice will do, or perhaps sinfully on the last two Fridays, I indulged a craving for sweet potato in a Siamese red sauce. I woke this morning with a craving for salt, as well as protein, and as God is merciful, recalled to mind a little platter of Digby chicks in my fridge — obtained some days before from the Maritime ethnic section of a cheap local supermarket.

Digby Chicken has long been Nova Scotia’s answer to Bombay Duck. The latter, also salty, and so powerful in flavour and scent that it requires careful packaging, is actually a fish, the bummalo. Gentle reader may already be trying to construct an etymology from that, but there is no hope for him. The fish is actually harvested from the waters off Bombay. It was transported from there by rail, in the good old days of British Imperialism, aboard the Bombay Dhak (i.e. the Bombay Mail), which gave rise to such expressions as, e.g. “You smell like the Bombay Dhak.” Surely, that will be enough to go on.

Whereas, to my understanding (and my mommy was from Nova Scotia, remember), no one in its presence could be in the slightest doubt that Digby chicken are in fact intensely smoked and salted herring fillets. The name is an old Minas Basin in-joke, from the arrival of Loyalist settlers with Admiral Digby, after the final evacuation of New York City (in 1783). The first couple of winters were rather a pain, for these effete urban types, but the settlers did have a plentiful supply of fish. They called the herring they had salted away, “Digby chicken.” You see, they were being ironical.

It is a gorgeous thing, not only to eat but to look at, in its glistening darkness. I have knocked off two of the fillets this morning, cold (as they are best), each wrapped longitudinally in a slice of Bavarian rye, to assure catholicity. Nothing is required by way of condiment, except, arguably, a long slice of full-sour kosher dill, so that we may commemorate the Old Testament, also.