Sunday, December 26, 2010

feeding the soul...literally

on Christmas day, the Jewish-owned supermarket remained open until 3pm. i bought meself a 1.5lb dungeness crab and a bunch of green mustard leaves. for the spouse, i bought a slice of wild salmon and marinated it in kalamansi, soy sauce, and dill and panfried it in butter while the crab was steaming in another pot.
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i chopped the green mustard then mixed kalamansi (from the garden) juice with bagoong and added a dash of sugar. i warmed the leftover brown rice. i ate with my hands...just like my Tang used to do...just like my Apo Sinang used to do. Apo even raised her right knee on the long bench and her right elbow rested on it while scooping the rice with her long beautiful fingers. . .
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i see her now. she is wearing her long saya and her white hair is in a tight bun. i loved how her wrinkled soft skin felt in my young hands. after supper she would sit on the stoop and we kids would sit at her feet and listen to her stories. sometimes, she asked me to help her assemble her maman. her betel nut was already chopped but she would let me wipe a little lye into the betel nut leaf before she popped it into her mouth.
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i have written about my Apo Sinang before. my maternal grandma, Apung Dikang, lived in Manila and we didn't see her often. But when we traveled by train from San Fernando to Manila to visit her, I always knew that we would eat well for she is a very good cook (she ran a cafeteria in her own home) and we would always get a treat from one of the jars in her sari-sari store.
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this year we could have had ham or turkey or pot roast with potatoes, yams, and green bean casserole...
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but my craving for something familiar subverts. back home, fresh crabs, shrimp, catfish were delivered fresh to our home straight from the fish farms of Guagua or the ocean off the coast of Bataan.  on some days when there is no delivery, the open market was never too far away. perhaps this is why, thankfully, i am healthy today because i grew up on fresh food. my mother taught me how to butcher a chicken, how to skin a frog, how to clean fish, how to process shrimp and make shrimp juice out of the fat from the head and shells.
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later when they came to the U.S. and she was shopping at Safeway to make dinuguan, she asked for "blood" and she was promptly told to go to the Red Cross. likewise, it took me many years to get used to the sight of fillets - of fish, of chicken... so clean but, oh, so devoid of .... good memories.
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it occurs to me now that my craving for fresh crab is a desire to visit those days when the old folks knew what it meant to live by the gifts of the sea. there were no mediating processing plants and packaging companies in-between. from the sea to the table. can't help but think that this intimacy fed their souls and in turn now feeds mine.

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