Singapore Adventure

Monday, July 11, 2005

Roly Poly Fish Heads
by venitha

If dead animals turn your stomach, bring along your Pepto Bismol when you come to visit us. By my measure, Singaporeans are way more comfortable with the fact that their food was once alive than we are. In comparison, Americans, with their chicken breasts and their fish filets and their beef steaks, seem downright squeamish, fastidious, and naive.

I suspect this reputation preceded me. Despite my repeated requests, Bin Chin was obviously reluctant to take me to a wet market. Now that I've had the pleasure, I can understand why. At the wet market, harsh reality is on vivid display: a whole roast pig, decorated with red bows (but without an apple in his mouth, and why, exactly, does the missing apple seem wrong?); a wildly flopping fish being clubbed to death; an army of live frogs hopping within a cage.

So far, I've been a big chicken, if you will, in this vein, tackling nothing more challenging in the meals I've prepared than roast chicken (head off) and unpeeled shrimp (head on). Okay, the shrimp had that icky unidentifiable green goo, but still.

Next on my menu is a whole roast duck (head on) available at many Chinese eateries. And after that, perhaps a squid (God-only-knows-what-that-body-part-is on). I am assured that the wet market vendors will be willing to clean my squid, or at least show me how to do it, as I am ang moh.

I suspect, though, that it may take more than our planned two years here for me to graduate to cooking something as brazenly in-your-face as fish-head soup. No, for the foreseeable future, fish-head soup will require dining out.

"The cheeks are the most tender and tastiest meat," advises Jaz, a friend from Colorado and an experienced Singapore diner.

"And the mouth," amends Choon Hwee, Jim's Singaporean co-worker. "Some like the eyeball, but not me."