Tag Archives: turbot

turbot

Sometimes you have to go the long way around and get through a lot of complications before you are reminded how nice simple things can be. That may seem a flat statement, and even a bit fishy, but really, I’m just thinking of a flatfish.

The wheels on the tour bus go round and round, and when we stepped off we were a short stroll away from a restaurant named after the first person to circumnavigate the globe, Juan Sebastián Elcano. He didn’t do it by bus, and he didn’t do it twice – he died of malnutrition halfway around the world from his home in Getaria, Spain.

We were not due for a similar fate, even if we had travelled far. When you’re on a food and wine tour, it can seem a bit turbo-charged: by the end of it you may need several days of very light consumption to recover. But there’s turbo-charged and then there’s turbot-charged.

By the way, is that even a pun? The answer depends on two things: what language you’re speaking and what etymology you choose. In English, turbot is said pretty much like “disturb it” without the “dis”; in French, however, the t is silent and it’s said just the same as (the French pronunciation of) turbo. What’s more, there’s some thought that Latin turbo – meaning ‘spinning top’ – might be the origin of the word, but there’s no explanation for why the French would have added the t. It may, on the other hand, have come to French from Old Swedish tornbut, meaning either ‘thorn-butt’ or ‘thorn flatfish’ (that but would be the same but as in halibut). In which case English, in taking turbot from French but pronouncing the final t, would have been taking it back home, pronunciation-wise.

However it was, we were definitely coming back to basics by the time we got to the turbot. It was the last day of a tour (with many difficulties and delays even getting to the start of it), and the turbot was the eighth item on an eleven-item menu (Elcano would have been amazed); it was preceded by octopus, mackerel, lobster, squid, and a couple of other kinds of fish, each prepared with careful and delicate seasoning and detail. And then we stepped outside to see our next course on the grill by the roadside.

There was no seasoning to speak of other than the most basic, but it didn’t come across flat – even though a turbot is a flatfish. It was as delicate and charming a flavour as I have had from a fish.

Of course, since this was in the Basque Country in Spain, they wouldn’t normally call it turbot with or without the final t. The Basque name is erreboiloa, but I know nothing more about that. The Spanish, however, is rodaballo, a name that apparently comes from Proto-Celtic for ‘wheels’ and ‘wheel-sack’ – which is rather odd for a flatfish, I think. But it did seem to suit the tour bus that we ultimately made it back to…