Every year, thousands of Christian pilgrims flock to the Sea of Galilee to explore the towns where Jesus spent his life—where he gave the Sermon on the Mount, the synagogues where he taught and preached, the site of the miracles of the loaves and fishes and walking on water. Even today, those visitors face the problem that all tourists have faced in human history: What should we have for lunch?
There’s an easy and correct answer: St. Peter’s Fish. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells Peter to go fishing in the Galilee, because the first fish he’d catch would have a silver shekel in it, which Peter could use to pay the Temple tax. Peter followed Christ’s instructions, and indeed, the fish he caught had a shekel in its mouth. According to legend, the fish Peter caught was a kind of tilapia, which is now happily exploited by restaurants all around the lake.
The shores of the Galilee are dotted with restaurants offering St. Peter’s Fish, usually to tourists hitting the area’s Christian sites. They serve the fish whole, head and all, and either grilled or fried, with a side of lemon. The fried version seem to be slightly preferred in reviews, though grilled may be more biblically authentic. It’s a genuinely brilliant marketing job, using the gospel association and a canny name to boost sales of an otherwise generic, lightly flavored fish.
Overfishing devastated fish populations in the 2000s, leading to a brief, total ban on Galilee fishing. The lake was restocked with 600,000 farmed tilapia in 2013, and while fishing has resumed, the season is limited. St. Peter’s Fish is available all year round, though it’s not guaranteed that your particular fish ever swam in the Galilee, or ate a coin.
- Oxford Archaeological Guide: The Holy Land (paperback, fourth edition)