On the docks of Blackwattle Bay, fishing boats return in the early morning from up and down the coast stocked with fresh ocean fare to sell at the Sydney Fish Market. It’s a round-the-clock business for wholesalers and patrons alike, with things ramping up just before Christmas Day – the only time each year the market shuts up shop.

Falling amid our warmest months, Australian festive celebrations call for light dishes making the most of summer’s seafood bounty. “I don’t know any Australian that doesn’t like a prawn this time of year,” says Carmelo Lombardo of De Costi Seafoods, who is already gearing up for the pre-Christmas seafood sale marathon.” Imagine ANZ Stadium full to capacity. During that 36-hour trade, that’s the volume of people that come through here.”

He emphasises that you needn’t spend a small fortune to take home good quality seafood; you should just have an idea what you’re looking for in order to find the best offer. “People know they can come to our marketplace and get such a good variety. This time of year it’s so exciting, a lot of crustaceans and seafood are in season at the moment,” Lombardo says.

“Sydney rock oysters have a shorter season than other types, and they’re at their peak right now,” says Brent Cowdroy of Christie’s Seafood, whose expert oyster shucker Lucy prepped 10,000 for customers during the late December sale period last year. Cowdroy explains even the same oyster breed can carry a different flavour depending on where it has been farmed. His favourite is the Sydney Rock oyster from Port Stephens, grown close to the coast so they have an extra salty ocean taste. “Dry shuck them and put it straight in your mouth – it’s like you’ve been dumped in a wave and got a mouthful of seawater.”

At any time, Christie’s has on offer up to six different Pacific oysters from the likes of Queensland’s Moreton Bay and Merimbula in southern New South Wales, eight types of Sydney rock oysters from along the east coast, plus the Angasi oyster. “The Pacific is larger and more meaty with a deeper shell, so they’re good for Kilpatrick, mornay or gratin toppings,” says Cowdroy. If you plan to serve yours au naturel, opt for the daintier Sydney rocks.

Just outside the covered market area, Musumeci Seafoods stocks a range of smaller and hard-to-find fish like blue mackerel, red spot whiting, sand whiting, and leatherjacket. Collect tartare and seafood cocktail sauce, toasted sesame oil and three types of wasabi from the chilled area inside Peter’s Fish Market, a one-stop-shop with fish fillets and cooked king and tiger prawns ready to go. For shoppers visiting at night, this is the spot to soak up the buzz with your choice of fish barbecued to order for an outdoor dinner on the promenade.

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Cowdroy says cold seafood has become a more popular holiday choice over the years. “It’s that convenience of being able to take home oysters or cooked prawns and saying ‘everyone, just dig in!’. Most of those options are pretty healthy, too.” That’s what he’ll be serving at home, having just finished such a hefty shift. “Half a dozen macchiatos keep me going!”

While the market’s extended hours welcomes a steady stream of some 100,000 shoppers, there are some busier times. “What happens is you get a little bit of a lull between 7pm and 10.30pm, then other people come in after they’ve finished dinner so we get another big rush then. Then you get people at two in the morning who are looking to beat the daytime rush,” says Cowdroy, who looks forward to the excitement of the festive season. “It’s good fun. I’ve never come across a grumpy customer at Christmas, they all walk out with a smile.”

Sydney Fish Market
Bank Street, Pyrmont
(02) 9004 1100

Pre-Christmas Trading Hours
5am Monday, 23 December to 5pm Tuesday, 24 December (Christmas Eve)