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
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.