When did seafood become an Aussie Christmas staple?

Ever since Paul Hogan graced tourism commercials with the famous line “shrimp on the barbie” to entice Americans to visit Australia, we have become synonymous with seafood.

We may call “shrimp” prawns, but it’s no surprise that Aussies buck traditional hot roasts for fresh seafood during the holidays.

In the last hours leading up to December 25, about 100,000 hungry people swarmed the Sydney Fish Market’s 36-hour seafood marathon.

Stocking up on an estimated 700 tonnes of seafood, including over 130 tonnes of prawns and nearly one million oysters.

Sydney Fish Market staff selling bags of fresh prawns
About 100,000 hungry people will swarm the Sydney Fish Market’s 36 hour seafood marathon. Source: Sydney Fish Market

When did seafood become an Aussie Christmas staple?

“It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when seafood became an Australian Christmas staple but it’s been part of my family’s Christmas for as long as I can remember,” Roberta Muir, Sydney Seafood School Manager from Sydney Fish Market told Yahoo News Australia.

Mr Muir believes our love of a seafood Christmas feast stems from the other side of the world.

“I guess Aussies have adapted the dishes of a cold northern European Christmas table to suit our mid-summer festivities,” he said.

Feast of the seven fishes

As far back as the 1800s Southern Italian immigrants to the US began a tradition on Christmas Eve known as feast of the seven fishes, where seven different seafood dishes are served on December 24.

Although as the tradition grew in popularity, Italian-American families have been known to serve up to 13 different seafood dishes during the feast and Mr Muir said indulgence is part of why Australians love seafood at Christmas time.

“Certain species like prawns, freshly shucked oysters and salmon all have a certain sense of indulgence about them, making them perfect for celebrations,” Mr Muir told Yahoo News.

customers buying prawns at the sydney seafood market
Sydney Fish Markets will sell over 130 tonnes of prawns and nearly one million oysters in 36 hours before Christmas. Source: Sydney Fish Market

A Summer Christmas

Aussies prefer to keep it simple, with fresh prawns and oysters being among the most popular sellers at the Sydney Fish Market.

“Although scallops and whole fish, such as salmon or snapper, are also increasingly popular,” Mr Muir said.

Chilled seafood also suits the Aussie summer climate and it’s a convenient way to indulge without the effort of slow cooked roasts and other hot dishes.

“It suits our climate perfectly and means no one’s slaving away in a hot kitchen for hours on Christmas Day,” Mr Muir said.

An Aussie seafood Christmas dinner
Chilled seafood suits the Aussie summer climate and it’s a convenient way to indulge without the effort. Source: Getty

Apart from Aussie seafood being “delicious”, Mr Muir said the health benefits of eating seafood also make it an attractive option.

“It also just happens to be high in protein, essential minerals and those very important omega-3 oils,” Mr Muir said.

Seafood Industry Australia CEO Jane Lovell said there is one way to make sure you enjoy your Christmas seafood meal.

“If you want to be certain you’re eating sustainable, healthy, world-class seafood this Christmas, ask for Aussie seafood.”

Sydney Fish Market frenzy coming to an end

With the Sydney Fish Market closing 5pm Tuesday, the market's executive manager for seafood trading Gus Dannoun said at the peak of the marathon there could be five or six people deep around sales counters.

People come down to the market in the wee hours for "the magic about the 36 hours", Mr Dannoun told AAP on Tuesday.

"It's just once a year that we do this, so straight away that's something that people look forward to.

"The fact that you've got a place which is normally quite dark at night all of a sudden almost lit up like a Christmas tree."

With customers and fish market staffers wearing Christmas accessories during the period, Mr Dannoun said "there's a real atmosphere, it's a really good vibe ... people really get into it".

Sales figures for the shopping frenzy won't be known for several days.

With AAP

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