Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Fish Heads!

Sunday Diana and I went to the 99 Ranch Market at the Pacific East Shopping Center. It was great! I mean, not only was it packed full of strange fruits and vegetables that no self respecting Safeway would ever carry, but it also had all sorts of exotic products from all over Asia, like sweet chili sauce from Thailand, red bean mochi from Japan, and countless others. Suddenly I was in a supermarket in another country, which truth be told is one of my favorite things to do in other countries: go to explore a supermarket or a food market if they don’t have supermarkets. (Let’s face it, very few other countries have the 24-hour orgy of food that is an American supermarket.)

I’ve looked at horse meat in Italian markets, seen my first escalator for shopping carts at a 2-level grocery store in Hong Kong, bought food at the Asda, eaten deep friend quails eggs on a stick from a street market in Beijing, found Campbell’s Soup behind the counter at a tiny corner store in Prague, and run into Mr. T at a bodega in NYC (Ok, technically it wasn’t at a bodega but at a Deli, but I’m using it here for dramatic effect), but none of those places has anything on 99 Ranch Market for one simple reason:

Fish heads.

Well, really the entire fish in general. Ok, it’s no Tsukiji Fish Market, but I’ve never seen a better seafood selection at a supermarket anywhere in the world in my life. Not only did they have the antiseptic western style glass counter filled with countless fillets, steaks (including gigantic pink grouper steaks) and, my personal favorite, a bin of “mixed fish” that sported all the colors of the raw fish rainbow in little leftover fillet chunk bits, but they also had a huge long bin filled with whole fish of every shape and size still in possession of their tails, heads, and guts. (As I pondered how quickly I could learn to clean and gut a fish, Diana informed me that she thinks they’ll clean them for you.)

And if this treasure trove of piscine pate weren’t enough to get my heart all a twitter, they had a whole section of bins devoted entirely to heads! Salmon heads, catfish heads, gigantic heads of some fish I couldn’t remember.

Of course they also had the requisite aquariums of live crustaceans, but given my adult onset food intolerance to shellfish, I tried to block those sweet succulent looking creatures out of my mind.

Now it’s true that I’ve always love fish. When I was a child, anytime we went out to dinner I would order the fish because my folks didn’t often cook it at home (being as how we lived in the Midwest rather far from any fresh fish other than yummy yummy lake perch). There’s a story famous in our family of a young me, looking more likely to order of the kids menu, looked a waitress straight in the eye and ordered the trout almandine. She looked at my parents in disbelief, only to be told if that’s what I wanted, that was fine with them.

Of course my father also used to joke that I only ate fish as a vehicle for consuming lemon juice, and while that may have been true at one time, I have come to develop quite the affinity for fish, even sans citrus secretions.

Why though, may you ask, am I so excited to see such a selection of fish heads? Because I am, from time to time, lesser now that I have a full-time job and two full-time hobbies (Un-Scripted and writing), a member of the Mongers Guild at the Northern California Renaissance Faire, and just before life got in the way of my monging, I discovered the joys of monging fish heads. Not only are they a treasure trove of double entendre jokes (m’lady, would you care for some head?), not only are children fascinated and awed wanting to know if it’s a real fish head, not only can you gross out the Queen Bee of all Mongers, Sandra, by taking a bite out of the back of one in front of her (which was Diana's idea), but you can use them as puppets! Love-sick puppets that spout ballads at patrons as they walk by. Oh, my… it was the gig I was born to mong, and tragic that I discovered it at exactly the wrong time.

But last year, when I carved out a weekend that thanks to a blown tire became just a day to go down to Gilroy to mong, none of the standard white-people surpermarkets in my area had any salmon heads. Pshaw. Who needs them? Now I can get all the crazy, large, and funky fish heads I can handle just a short ride from my house. Oh yes, somehow, someway, I will do some monging this year. Oh yes.

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In 1789, the governor of Australia granted land and some animals to James Ruse in an experiment to see how long it would take him to support himself. Within 15 months he had become self sufficient. The area is still known as Experiment Farm. This is my Experiment Farm to see how long it will take me to support myself by writing.