In the not too distant past when I was a child growing up in Kitty the previous administration had an entity called Guyana Fisheries Ltd. This government owned company specialised in the distribution of fish nationwide at very affordable prices. One specific set of fish that was specifically earmarked for those in the lower income bracket was “Mixed Fish”.
Mixed Fish was what its self-explanatory title suggests: a mixture of several types of fish. However, the predominant species of fish in this bundle is what Guyanese call “Banga Mary”. In a pound of Mixed Fish you could get two “Banga Mary” and a Butter Fish. You fared better buying more than a pound if you wanted a wider variety of fish. In my time – which might provide an idea of my age – Mixed Fish was sold at GUY$6 per pound.
As a little boy, I would scurry round to Kitty Market obliquely opposite which the Guyana Fisheries Complex was located on Shell Road, for my weekly purchase of Mixed Fish. Given GUY$20 by my granny to buy three pounds of Mixed Fish, I would use the two dollars change to gratify myself with some phoulourie sold by a little Indian lady at the corner of Shell Road and Alexander Street, Kitty.
This activity continued weekly until the entity was closed in the early 90s. By then however, I had acquired a liking for “Banga Mary”. Especially when fried dry, this fish could be consumed either by itself or with a combination of other dishes. In “Rum Shops” “Banga Mary” was sometimes used as cutters and carried a modest price. After all, “Banga Mary” reflected a price befitting its modest status.
In 2012 however, “Banga Mary” is no longer that lowly fish with that modest price enjoyed exclusively by the low income Guyanese. “Banga Mary” has been rebranded as the desirable fish of choice to be consumed and enjoyed by the larger cross section of the Guyanese society including the middle and upper classes. This situation is believed to have resulted from the proliferation of “Fish Shops” that have sprung up around the country.
“Banga Mary” was always being fried on a commercial basis but not in a mainstream manner as it is today. Today a serving of Fish and Chips which often is a Styrofoam lunch box of fried “Banga” and Plantain chips costs GUY$900. It seems as if there is now a premium price on “Banga Mary”.
I remember when “Banga Mary” made its reappearance about 12 years ago, a box of Fish and Chips cost about GUY$ 300. Can you imagine USD$5 is what it costs for box of fried “Banga Mary” and Fried Plantains?
“Banga Mary” must be proud of herself. She has risen from depths of her lowly existence to take her rightful place alongside her other seafood counterparts. I do not see “Banga Mary” ever getting cheaper as local fast food entities continue to exploit the uniqueness of her flavor and texture.
Long live Banga Mary!