I was returning from the market the other day and passed one of the best chocolateries (chocolate shops) near our apartment. The chocolates in the window case always are inviting, but on that day I did a double take. Right there in the showcase were chocolate FISH. There were the cute goldfishy types, but there were also more unusual types, including the squid and a realistic-looking flat fish. Not to say they were not finely made, but there seemed to be something incongruous with linking les poissons and one of God’s greatest gifts to
Trying to think of what might be the reason chocolate fish were suddenly à la mode (fashionable), I started asking around. I thought it might be because of Pâques (Easter). Perhaps, in France, Easter is celebrated using the early Christian sign of the fish. But Easter with the usual chocolate bunnies, crosses and eggs is later this year. That celebration will not be until April 24, so April 1 seemed a little early to start selling fine Easter chocolate, except in American stores where it shows up right after Christmas.
I soon discovered that these fish that are spawning in all the chocolate shop windows have nothing to do with Easter. Instead, it is a tradition that I never heard of, although it is also followed in some other European countries. It is the celebration of Poisson d’avril, the Fish of April—April Fools’ Day on April 1. Unlike some countries where even “grown” men (I’m thinking of a few I know) play jokes on others, usually only French children indulge in this jest by sticking crayoned cut-out fish to the backs of unsuspecting victims. Upon discovery of the fish, they call out, “poisson d’avril.” I imagine they receive fishbowls of chocolate delights from adults, who get caught up in the holiday, too.
I mentioned to my friend Marie-Christine that I might not be able to eat chocolate-shaped fish, and when she visited our apartment a few days later, she took my squeamishness in consideration and brought me the most delicious chocolat de la mer. There were des hippocampes (seahorses), des coquillages (seashells), and des moules (mussels), and she sneaked in quelques encornets (some squids)! I became convinced that chocolate sea creatures are just as delicious as chocolate bunnies, maybe even more so.
Now you know why I love it here in France. Where else would a lighthearted holiday turn into the perfect opportunity to eat chocolate?