I’ve been spending an unusual amount of time in Asian groceries lately. Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai if I can find them. I’m looking for Michael. Or I was looking for Michael until DadaK gave me some of the item in question and I realised I’d misheard him, and it was actually mackerel that I needed. It just goes to show, you can know someone well for almost 20 years and still have trouble with their accent sometimes. (He does with mine, too).
He gave me the mackerel just a week before he left for Ghana. My mission at the time had been for DadaK to teach ActionMan to cook Ghanaian food, so he woud not have to rely on my “disgusting, bland” food while his dad was away. (ActionMan’s words, not DadaK’s). In fact this has been my mission for years, but with the departure date fast approaching, I was feeling a little more urgent about it, with visions of ActionMan living on take-away and sausages for months on end. So he had several lessons, recited to the procedure to me, DadaK gave us the mackerel and a shopping list, and we were ready for a trial cooking session without DadaK’s supervision.
The mackerel I’d been looking for was a special ingredient that imparts a delicious, subtle flavour to the food, although you wouldn’t guess that from a product that’s fondly called stink-fish (because it does. The smell has been known to cause mixed-marital discord, altho not in our house). It’s salted fish. In the couple of decades DadaK has been in Australia, he has been experimenting with a range of preserved fish products, including gourmet smoked trout, and for the dish we planned to make – eggplant stew – the mackerel was the best substitute for whatever it is they use in Ghana. (Ghanaians rely heavily on smoked fish for protein, and often mix fish with meat – which can be a bit of a challenge for anglo Aussies).
I’d like to know how people discover these special substitute ingredients. I would imagine DadaK can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times he’s eaten Vietnamese food, yet somehow he knows that he has to venture into a Vietnamese grocery to get stink-fish. He also gets phone cards, stock cubes, plantains, tinned fish, frozen cassava, and if he’s lucky, very tiny eggplants that look like peas.
My fruitless – or fishless – search for Michael paused when DadaK supplied it. But now he’s gone, I’m going to have to find it myself, if ActionMan is to cook eggplant stew (froye). It’s a big if.
Whether it’s because we overdid the stink-fish, or because we didn’t follow the strict instructions to only use Santa Maria sardines, or perhaps it was the prawn stock cubes – our stew, was, well …. way too fishy even for ActionMan. Not subtle at all. It was very disappointing and a big waste of food. I think I had cereal for dinner that night. If we do it again, I’ll have to have a back up meal plan.
The other obstacle is that we’ve discovered the true identity of another of the special ingredients. Ok, it’s just a psychological obstacle. When we bought the corned beef (only Black & Gold), ActionMan read the list of ingredients on the can. I don’t know what got into him. I haven’t noticed him do this before, except for a school assignment last year. If ‘d been able to stop him, I would have, because I would prefer not to know what’s in tinned corned beef. It’s beef, ok, let’s leave it at that. But it’s too late now.
With a look of horrified disbelief, ActionMan read the label: “40% pure beef, 60% beef heart”. Right there at the checkout. Ok, I admit it, we are culinary wimps.
Well”, I said firmly, trying to ignore the rising nausea, “we’ve been eating froye for years and enjoying it. It’s one of our favourite things. We can’t stop eating it now just because we know what’s in it.” (wanna bet?). So I paid for it. And we cooked it. And it’s a pity it was such a disaster, because that’s done nothing at all to beat down our psychological obstacles. Plus we now have several cans of corned beef in the cupboard, which Obapaa left behind because she couldn’t fit them into her luggage.
I can’t say I’m in a rush to cook froye again, so it’s looking like a bleak diet of sausages and cereal for us, over the next few months. However, anytime I’m near an Asian grocery, I do look for Michael. Honestly, I really do.