New York serves up a smorgasbord of fish

20 September 1998

In Argentina beef is king, in the United States, steak, in the Philippines, pork and in Japan, shashimi. In Kelantan it is ayam percik, and among a section of KLites, it is kepala ikan!

At home, we are used to sunshine, humidity and torrential rains. In New York, the moment we get some sunshine, every one is out worshipping the sun. In summer it seems every restaurant in New York goes into fashionable, Mediterranean, Parisian and Roman modes: eating outside in shaded or unshaded sidewalks or porches. Farmers would come down to hold weekly markets and there would also be street markets.

Several Sundays ago, my wife, two friends and I went to the farmers' market at Union Square, opposite the New Film Academy where shoppers by the hundreds jostled to buy organic vegetables, all kinds of fruits, cooked and uncooked foods, rows upon rows of glass jars filled with tomatoes, figs,pickled cucumber, homemade jams and other produce.

Indeed, at the market, one will find anything from jagong bakar to almost everything you possibly want or everything you need to know about natural food products.

What an experience despite the hustle-bustle, noise, heat, sweat and dust!

However, we felt great relief once back in the comforts of the air-conditioned apartment 29 floors up, overlooking the westside of Central Park. Lunch was simple: steamed rice, ulam, ayam goreng (kapitan's style), Nyonya's kepala ikan asam, grilled soft-shell crabs and refreshingly cool, tembikai (water melon, alas, not seedless) and mango for dessert and coffee followed by siesta.

Tea was at five sharp, followed by a walk in Central Park, dinner, a bit of reading and bedtime after the eleven o'clock news. Rather early, in order to rise early for black Monday and the weekly office meeting.

Though Manhattan is an island, it is not surrounded by rich fishing waters. However, sea food is plentiful, supplied by the rest of the United States and the world.

Manhattan supermarkets have all kinds of fish. At my two favourite supermarkets, Citarella and Vinegar Factory, they have specialist fish counters widening my access to the treasures of the seven seas. I could not believe my eyes when I sighted ikan keli which is known here as cat's fish which is reared in the south, in the Carolinas in particular.

Well, that was what I was told. Anyway, there are fish from American waters and from oceans as far-flung as New Zealand and Japan.

Fauzah enjoys Japanese hamachi fish, salmon, sea bass and tuna and does not trust me when it comes to buying fish. I prefer seafood to meat though I enjoy occasional steak, games and chicken.

I love all kinds of fish - eel, ikan keli, haruan, kelah, bawal, terubuk, even selar kuning, kembong, ikan bilis and, of course, fresh sardines! And clams, calamaris, lobsters and when budget permitting, caviar.

My wife decides what to buy and what to pass. She knows if fish is fresh, and how long we should keep it.

My only rule about fish is that it should be fresh, preferably still moving. The fishmongers will clean and cut according to your wish but I like my fish whole with scales and shells. What amazes me is that my wife has a detective's eyes, moving slowly,because she looks at everything carefully.

I refrain as much as I can from going marketing or shopping with her. I rarely contradict her and as a result, we seldom quarrel.