Sunday, May 1, 2011

Food and Oral History: Fried Fish, Daing

Dad showing off his catch and
 cooking skills.
My dad was referred to as "Old Man of the Sea" when I booked him on one of those corporate employee club deep sea fishing trips as a gift once.  Co-workers came back with stars in their eyes saying, "I met your dad.  He taught me how to fish."  I would look at them perplexed and matter-of-factly at the same time with that, "You mean you don't know how?" look.  They acted as if he had shared some sort of buried ancient secrets that caused them to now see the light.  My dad claimed to have never revealed his best tricks in the art of fishing.  I think my siblings and I have somehow inherited this "fish whisperer" talent.  We are not as skilled as father, but our endless weekends of childhood fishing should not be frowned upon.  We have the scars on our knees from walking the broken down jetties of Galveston to prove it.

I recall a story of not really even trying and catching a very long rainbow trout.  Unknown to me, an accompanying friend at the time was  competing and fell a few inches short every time.  Later, said individual had only to acquire himself a very bad sun burn rather than a prize fish to impress others that he had beaten a girl in some imaginary contest I did not know I was playing. 

I often imagined my father as a little boy on the beach near Agoo, his hometown where he grew up, catching fish with his bare hands.  While growing up, this was his weekend get away.  I remember one time, my uncle caught a fish straight out of the back bay in Galveston and just tore into it with my father and started to eat it raw, exclaiming that it was like sushi.  I took a taste myself, but later had concerns after watching way too many "The Monster Inside Me" episodes on Animal Planet.  

When my dad retired from GE after 37 years of service, it was unanimous that the theme of the party would be "Gone Fishing" . 

So here we are, down to the contribution my father brought to my Spring Filipino food party, fried fish.  My father made it very clear to me that it was simply fried fish, not daing.  To clarify, daing is fish that has been cleaned, split in half, soaked with vinegar with garlic, salt and pepper and dried in the sun.  Only after is the fish fried.  My brother-in-law Ace calls this "fish jerky".  

My father did not bring "fish jerky" to the party, instead he brought a large tray of fried fish, croaker and sun trout that he caught in the Gulf to be specific.  He simply cleaned the fish, scaled it, gutted it, cut the fins, sprinkled salt and pepper and fried the fish.  If the batch of fish is not consumed at the party, everyone usually asks for a to go container to take some home.  I always have the fancy styrofoam containers on hand knowing this will inevitably happen.  My father always made sure to over deliver on the quantity knowing folks would want to bring some home.  Plus, I think he needed to off load some of the many lots of frozen fish in the various freezers that occupied the kitchen and garage of his house.  I recall grandma, who acted as the marketing, calling all her friends and selling the surplus my dad would catch.  

It is not as glamorous as one may think to be the daughter of a fisherman.  My grandmother always put me to work as soon as my father brought home the latest catch.  I used to be able to, without flinching or disgust, for as long as I can remember, gut a fish and clean and scale it like nobody's business.  Now, I think I just buy it frozen, deboned out of laziness and adulthood awareness of sanitation.  Perhaps I have disconnected form this archaic feeling.  Thinking back, there was something primal about being able to catch your food for free and eat it.  I wonder if that was the real motivator of fishing, the ability to be able to provide for your family without spending a dime (other than the $200 rod and reel of course).  You would not ever see my father  doing too much of that catch and release business.   He does not quite understand aquariums either, if anything they amuse him.  "Why pay to let the fish swim around in your house when you can eat it?" He would politely say to some poor aquarium enthusiast.

I never thought of my father as an old man while growing up.  Now that he has the time, I still see that twinkle in his eyes of being able to enjoy the thrill of the catch.  It could be seen as a sport to some, but for him it was sustenance.  As a boy - I imagine the feeling that he had as the eldest son, running home to my grandmother with his catch of the day in hand.   He must have been so proud to be able to contribute and provide for his family, without a rod and reel perhaps - catching fish with his bare least that is how I would like to imagine it.


Clean the fish.  Salt and pepper it.  Fry until golden brown.  That is pretty much what my dad said.  Apologies to anyone expecting a more glamorous description here.  Some add peppers, onions, and tomatoes for garnish.  My dad does not do any of this, no need to get all fancy.  This story isn't even about the recipe, come to think of it, the story is not even about the fish for that matter : )

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