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Costa Rican Tilapia

 That’s what the sign said at the fancy fish market in Manhattan. It was more than $10 a pound, and it sure sounded exotic.

It turns out that Costa Rican tilapia is grown in backyard ponds by women just like this one. Here’s’s a picture I took of her, kissing our fish before cleaning it on the open-air table in her backyard. She grows 500 at a time, has a dozen or so chickens for eggs, and she’s a lot better off (and doing a lot more long term good) than the rancher next door.

A tilapia from this wonderful person costs about seventy-five cents.

When you see the sign in New York, though, you imagine spear fisherman or spring-fed crystal clear rivers. You certainly don’t think you’re buying a home-farmed commodity.

Somewhere between cheap protein near the equator and my home in New York, the price and the value of the fish skyrocketed.

Not because of the cost of shipping. Because of the story. Tilapia sounds exotic. Costa Rica is exotic. Put them together and amateur chefs are ready to line up and pay a premium.

Is someone getting ripped off here? Of course not. Chowhounds like me want to buy something that sounds exotic. Fish mongers want to find new supplies of fish and also want to charge enough to cover their risk. And my friend in Costa Rica certainly deserves the higher prices she’ll get if her fish becomes popular in the United States. Everybody is telling a story so that I’ll be able to lie to myself when I cook dinner tonight.