The Christian season of Lent started yesterday– it’s early this year, thanks to a quirk of the calendar. Catholics around the world have a tradition of fasting and/or food restrictions– they’re different everywhere. I’m from western Pennsylvania, where people eat fish on Friday during Lent. Specifically, they eat beer-battered fish sandwiches.
Fish sandwiches are a big deal in the Pittsburgh area. They always involve a soft bun, a thin but flavorful batter, no toppings other than maybe some tartar sauce, and WAY more fish than bun. The fish is usually sole. There are sandwich shops where you can get them year round, but the real place to go is the basement of the local Catholic church on a Friday afternoon during Lent. Churches (often the women’s auxiliary– yes, those still exist– or another fundraising group) all around the area make homemade fish sandwiches and sell them for eat-in and takeout. They’re crispy, juicy and utterly delicious.
They’re not just for Catholics, either. When I was growing up, we Presbyterians were regulars at the fish fry at St. Alphonsus in Springdale, and it was common to walk into the church basement and see a table full of Presbyterians and another of Lutherans, drinking Cokes and maneuvering massive fried sole filets into their mouths. I can’t speak for Lutherans, but Presbyterians are under no obligation to eat fish on Friday– it’s just that the fish is sooo good.
St. Al’s no longer makes their divine sandwiches, but if you’re in the Pittsburgh area, here’s a list of parish fish fries. Don’t be shy if you’re not a Catholic– if you like fish, you’ll be welcome.
Hey Philadelphians– has the fish fry caught on in eastern PA? If so, where should I go for my Lenten fish sandwich tomorrow?