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Photo by Lily Wakeley, © Social Street CIC
CultureLife and livingLocalShopping

A day in the life of fresh fish fishmonger, Ramadan

Fresh fish is a high street staple on Bethnal Green Road. We speak to the passionate fishmonger Ramadan about what a day in his shoes looks like, and establish just how much he enjoys eating the stuff.

Fresh Fish is what it says on the tin, its produce separated from the sea to your plate just by temporary stop-off in Billingsgate Market, the UK’s largest inland fish store. You can buy from both Fresh Fish’s permanent shop and their market stall at Bethnal Green Market

Ramadan bought the shop last year, reviving what had become a sinking ship with his longstanding experience. It is now a vibrant display of flamboyant fish, sold by his three charismatic employees, who are forever smiling and laughing between the rhythms of descaling fish and taking orders.

Bethnal Green Road has long been a major shopping destination, and subsequent hub for socializing. The road has a number of traditional market stores selling food and clothes, and is increasingly sandwiched by bars and pubs as well as contemporary shops with high price tags. 

Fresh Fish is working hard to keep the road’s substantial footfall of shoppers full of omega-3 and protein. For Ramadan, fish keeps him happy and healthy in a number of ways.

To prepare myself for the day…I wake up around 4am and have some coffee, and head straight to Billingsgate Market in Canary Wharf to choose the freshest fish. I unload everything at the shop, and then go home around 8am to pray and to enjoy a typical Egyptian breakfast. 

I am responsible for…I buy the fish from the market, choosing fish according to what we sold the previous day, or what hadn’t been available. I finish work around 10am and then return to the store around 4pm to help shut down and prepare orders for the next morning.

I got into this line of work because…I have always worked with fish, since 2004 when I moved to London from my home country, Egypt. I had a stall in Whitechapel, but decided to bring my experience to this shop, which was failing at the time. I live in Bethnal Green so it suits me better. We also have a stall in Bethnal Green Market – it’s as crazy as Billingsgate Market!

The best thing about my job is…I love eating fish! I have it everyday. My favourite is herring, squid, langoustines, sardines, monkfish – all of it, really! But I prefer to eat ‘cheap’ fish, because expensive fish like salmon is usually farmed and full of chemicals.  Also, I get to rest in the middle of the day and pick up my kids from school. My wife prepares a fish meal which we eat all together. In fact, I need to go to pick them up now! 

A typical day for me looks like…I usually go to the market but sometimes I put orders in with the market traders – because I know them and they know me. Then I clean and filet it all. I have two permanent staff members, and one casual worker, who sell the fish. 

What do you sell…Everything. Some of our fish is wild and some is farmed, coming from Turkey, Cyprus, France. The salmon is from Scottish farms. Wild fish is seasonal, so what we can sell changes throughout the year. For instance, mackerel season finished last week and will start again in 5 or 6 months. Brexit has meant prices have gone up.

Sometimes we sell sharks which come from Scotland. [At this moment, his employee Amar shows me a picture of himself, cradling an impressive 2 meter long shark]

The most difficult thing about this job is…It’s hard during winter because my hands get really cold being in all the water and ice whilst I’m cleaning and fileting. But I much prefer this task then selling because customers give me a headache! They are always trying to haggle down my prices and pocket my profit! It’s nice and calming to prepare the fish in the early morning.

My favourite place to go is…My home with my family! I don’t eat out much because my wife prepares delicious fish meals for our family. I’m a Muslim so I pray throughout the day – sometimes at home, in the shop, and I go to different Mosques, I don’t have a particular one.

The best thing about Bethnal Green is…I love how diverse the people are. My customers are Chinese, Italian, Spanish, English, Bangladeshi and so many other nationalities. 

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