Monday, March 9, 2015

A short fishy story

I’ve always loved fish and all kinds of seafood. Growing up, it was something I would only occasionally have; it was a special treat. These days, living in Japan, I eat fish all the time. Especially small fish, ranging from the size of your finger to the size of your fingernail or smaller. Fish so small that you can eat them whole, heads, tails, and all. And I love it! 

Can you see the little fish in there?

Eating smaller fish is much better for the sustainability of the oceans, since they are lower down on the food chain, so more energy efficient and available in great amounts. And, according to National Geographic, “Those (species) smaller and lower on the food chain … can reproduce quickly to sustain their populations.” It’s the larger (and more popular) types that are over-fished and at risk.

We all know that fish is really healthy, packed full of omega-3 fatty acids and other awesome nutrients. Eating these little fish whole is also even healthier than eating larger fish. For one thing, fish lower on the food chain have lower levels of mercury.

Source: Wikipedia - mercury in fish

Also, by eating them whole, you’re getting calcium and other nutrients from the bones as well. I love shishamo (a type of smelt), which are not only eaten whole, but with their bellies full of eggs!

Delicious fish and roe, all in one!

At the supermarket, I always look for fish I’ve never tried before. I have found many delicious kinds this way. So last week when I saw some iwashi (sardines, not canned) being displayed on the end of the aisle, I snatched them up. They looked dried, or at least drier than the iwashi I’ve bought before in the fresh fish section, and I’m pretty sure the display they were in was not refrigerated, although it was next to the refrigerated section. And the name in Japanese was イワシ丸干, which my dictionary translates as “dried whole sardines.” So I assumed they were safe and ready to eat, and was looking forward to having them that night. Especially since many of my favorite snacks consist of dried fish. I was craving some good fishy snack time!

Crunchy little dried fish with slivered almonds, my favorite snack!

I cozied into my kotatsu table, found a tv show to watch on my computer, and excitedly lifted an iwashi with my chopsticks to my mouth. Head fish, I chomped down on the little guy.

Once, when I was very young, I dreamed that I was eaten by a giant. He just picked me up, tossed me in his mouth like popcorn, and swallowed me whole. It turned out ok, because the inside of his body was more like the inside of a building, with a staircase for his throat and a lobby area for his stomach. I escaped by taking an elevator down to his big toe, where his toenail was a window that I could open and crawl out of. Unfortunately, he saw me running away and caught and ate me again. And this time he chewed. I still vividly remember his tooth pressing into my back, and I woke up just before he bit down, with my body all contorted and my back arched trying to avoid certain death.

The feeling of small crunchy bones, chewy muscle, and gooey brains & guts that the giant would have felt chowing down on me is probably quite similar to what I experienced when I bit into this iwashi. It was disturbing, to say the least. I immediately spit it out. Only then did I notice, right there on the front of the packaging, a sentence saying to please fry them in oil and then enjoy eating them. Not quite as ready to eat as I had thought…

That bite had been so gross, I couldn’t bring myself to cook and try eating them again until the next day. But I love fish and hate wasting healthy food, so I wasn’t about to give up.

So yesterday I dumped them into a frying pan with generous amounts of coconut oil, and once again excitedly looked forward to eating them. But the weirdest thing happened while they were frying. It was like their stomachs exploded. Everything else stayed intact, but that round area just below the mouth had burst open on all of them, and dark colored fish guts were mixed in with the oil, all over everything in the pan. It’s not like I wasn’t planning to eat that part, since it’s part of eating fish whole, but I wasn’t expecting it to become an effortless surprise sauce either.

End of the story is, they don’t look real appetizing, but they are at least edible. I will happily enough eat them all, but I doubt I will be buying them again in the future.

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