Monday, December 27, 2010

FISH OF BRAZIL - Tainha (Mullet)

Tainha is the Brazilian Portuguese name for the fish known in English as the mullet. Fortunately, confusion has been avoided here because the word tainha in Portuguese only refers to a species of fish and not to a haircut as well. The mullet haircut has become the butt of so many jokes in the English-speaking world that I'm sure mullets (the fish) would be quite happy if they were allowed to change their name to something that hasn't become a catchphrase for a hideous hairdo.

Mullets are found in temperate and tropical ocean waters around the world. One of the world's largest populations is in the Atlantic waters off the coast of the southern Brazilian states of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina. For most of the year enormous shoals of mullets live off the coast of Rio Grando do Sul, but in the months of May and June they migrate north to Santa Catarina in search of warmer water and suitable spawning grounds. The most important commercial fishery for tainha is during this season, and the ports of Santa Catarina receive the bulk of the fish for processing.

Traditionally there was a large Mediterranean fishery for mullets, in fact since Roman times, particularly in the seas off of Italy where the fish is known as triglia. In recent years this fishery has diminished due to the disappearance of mullet stocks. Overfishing is the suspected cause. Many Italian immigrants to Brazil settled in Santa Catarina in the late 19th and early 20th century, and already being familiar with the fish made the tainha an important part of local cuisine. Today tainha is the fish that is most appreciated in Santa Catarina and the species that is most associated with the cooking of that state, in particular with the cooking of its Italo-Brazilian community.

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