Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Alone with Fishhead on Mexican Night

Fish is very fresh and very good in Laos. With a multitude of rivers and lakes, fish is a main part of the Laos cuisine. In fact, fish is the main source of meat protein in the Lao diet. Like most places where fish is a staple food, it is usually served with the head, which is thoroughly consumed, the eyes being a delicacy. The two most frequently seen forms of fish in Laos are Laap Paa (chopped fish with herbs) and whole fish grilled over a fire.

I’ve become so used to fish heads, that a couple weeks ago, I was served fish filets and I found it strange, almost suspicious, that there was no head. It’s not like I eat the heads, I just like having them around. At meals with fish heads, I offering this delicacy to others as a gesture of generosity. Most people see through this ploy, but it gets a laugh and someone gets to enjoy a fish head more than I would. Plus, I can show off some of my limited Lao vocabulary. It’s a good experience all around – except for the fish.

I was left alone this evening with some fish to cook. It’s Mexican night; fish tacos. Fish isn’t hard to cook. Grilled, fried, baked, it’s all pretty self explanatory; just stick it with a fork and if it flakes it’s done. Tonight’s task of frying a few fish steaks should have been a no brainer, but it didn’t really turn out that way.

I finished the first batch which had been started for me. Then I went to work on frying up the remainder. Two steaks, a tail and a head, neatly sliced down the middle. I dropped the head halves in the hot oil, face side up. Then the questions started flowing.

I realized that I have only cooked a fish head when it was attached to the fish. What should I do? Should I cook it extra because there are more bones, or is it tastier to leave that tiny tad of think matter a bit more… shall we say… tartar?

The eyes looked up at me and glassed over. They offered no assistance.

I voted for the bones theory. I left the head cooking extra, bringing it to a crispy set of triangles, the eyes long ago hard to distinguish. I took the two fish head halves from the frying pan and put them on a plate. I wonder what kind of reaction they will bring. They’re cooling on a plate now, the fish head halves. I don’t think fishhead is coming to dinner dressed as a taco. Too big, too cooked, can’t even see his eyes.


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