Thursday, January 25, 2007


Fish heads, fish heads
Roly poly fish heads
Fish heads, fish heads
Eat them up, yum!

[Subtitle snatched from El Capitan, who in turn snarfed it up from Barnes & Barnes.]

In these Electronic Pages, I have written numerous times about the bizarre things in the Elisson diet. Snake soup, Shanghai hairy crab, poutine, jellyfish - all these have, at one time or another, been Fair Game for my relentless and bizarre appetite.

Even sardine and Laughing Cow tacos, as I related in a recent post.

Peanut butter pizza? Yes indeedy. Sounds horrendous, no? But spreading a thin layer of peanut butter on a pizza crust before adding the tomato sauce, cheese, and toppings actually enhances the flavor of the ’za, adding a subtle depth. It also has a few other side benefits: (1) horrifying all of your friends, and (2) keeping any people with peanut allergies away from your pizza. Try it!

But we started this thing with Fish Heads, and by Gawd, that’s what I wanted to write about.

The very idea of eating fish heads fills most people with fear and loathing. Back in my Snot-Nose Days, I would watch my grandmother make gefilte fish from scratch, grinding the fish in a meat grinder, adding the matzoh meal and other ingredients, and then carefully stuffing the mixture back into the eviscerated fish before poaching it. (The term gefilte - stuffed - betrays the origins of the dish.) None of that store-bought crap for her.

I would stand, slackjawed and horrorstruck, observing the whole repulsive process. Feeesh! With their heads! Yaaggh! Never mind that it actually tasted good. Kids never care whether something might taste good - not if it looks evil enough.

But let’s face it. Eating the head of another creature is not for the squeamish. The eyes! The braaains! Mr. Debonair, my friends, is no zombie. He does not eat brains.

And yet...

At a banquet in Thailand, I was once served a ferociously hot chicken curry. In Asia, people tend to eat anything that’s not nailed down, so nothing goes to waste. As the guest of honor, I was served the chicken’s head...and I was expected to eat it. To demur would have been insulting, as well as denying the locals a good laugh at my expense, so I chowed down. Mmmm, chicken head.

When we lived in Houston and the girls - all three of ’em - were only beginning to get acclimated to the idea of eating sushi, I used to horrify them by ordering ama-ebi, AKA “sweet shrimp.” Unlike “regular” shrimp sushi, which was lightly cooked and headless, ama-ebi was served in two courses: first, the beheaded shrimp, raw, on the basic Sushi Rice Pad; and second, the deep-fried heads, served in their own little dish. Let me tell you that everything tastes better fried, even if it has little beady eyes and monster antennae. The Mistress of Sarcasm and Elder Daughter would scream blue murder when the waitress would deliver my Shrimp Heads unto me.

And then there are Fish Heads. Fish head curry, as it happens, is a speciality of Singapore. On my last visit there, we stopped at a restaurant hard by the causeway to Johore, Malaysia, where I enjoyed a steaming, fragrant bowl of the local fish head curry. Almost a soup, it was redolent of the exotic spices of the East, with ingredients too numerous and mysterious to name - and with just a little bit of rice to add substance. And fish heads. Lotsa fish heads.

But it was Damn Tasty. The cheek meat (a Doctor Lecter favorite) was especially tender. I didn’t even mind that my luncheon was staring back at me as I ate it. It put me in mind of C. S. Calverley’s poem “To a Baked Fish”:

Preserve a respectful demeanor
When you are brought into the room.
Don’t stare at the guests as they’re eating
No matter how much they consume.

Fish heads! Fish heads! Eat them up, yum!

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