I like to eat some strange things. I like crunching down on the cartilage and grizzle of any animal with a back bone. I also like devouring the glutinous gel of pig’s feet as well as sucking out the marrow. In addition, I also love sucking the fatty part of a fish head.
Yes. Only the head.
To top off this weird delicacy madness I also love pig, chicken, and fish skin, and chicken feet.
If I were to dine with any of my non Caucasian friends and chicken is on the menu, they gawk at me as I’m grinding on some cartilage with my teeth. They utter “ew” as I suck the brains out of a fish head. They cringe at the thought of chicken feet being served as a delicacy.
They don’t know what they are missing. The fat of the pigs’ feet and the fish head soaks up the flavor of what it’s cooked in. Crunchy cartilage give the meal texture.
Who introduced me to these strange habits?
As a boy Dad grew up eating chicken and pig’s feet. They reminded him of his Mom’s cooking. They reminded him of his childhood.
Now they remind me of my childhood. My Dad would boil a pot full of pig’s feet. Then he would share his prize with me. We’d sit and dine on the flesh and suck out the marrow while Dad cracked open a can of beer and I would drink juice to wash it all down. The day after Thanksgiving, after everyone had their share of meat, Dad would take the carcass, break it down to fit his soup pot, and submerge it into boiling soup stock with grains of rice to make a rice porridge called jook. However, any bone that had cartilage – or lok lok gwut as my Dad called it in Cantonese — we’d heartily crunch and gnawed it off the bone.
As for eating fish, Dad told me the best part is the head. He also told me that in both Japanese and Chinese cultures eating the head, especially the fat behind the eyes, makes one wiser. While that claim is still up for debate, there is no mistake that the head is the best part because like the pig’s feet, it soaks up the flavor of the sauce it is cooked in and the skin just melts in your mouth.
Animals with back bones beware.
Towards the end of his life however, Dad was denied such delicacies because they became a choking hazard. No more crunchy lok lok gwut for him and certainly no more sucking on bone marrow or fish bones. The only sucking he could do was through a straw. He could only eat pureed food that looked like baby food.
That is, if he could even remember how to eat. While Dad remembered our names and still recognized our faces, he would forget to chew and swallow his food. As a caregiver I had to constantly nag him to swallow. He would store food in his cheeks. If I asked him to open his mouth to see if he had swallowed he could easily fool me by storing them in his cheeks. It won’t be until several hours later when my sister brushes his teeth that she would find undigested food in his mouth.
Dad’s muscles also atrophied to a point where he looked like a starving Jew in Hitler’s concentration camp. He went from a healthy 200 pounds to a frightening 113. That was my weight in junior high school. I could see his rib cage and I could touch every notch on his spine. My Dad was literally all skin and bones at the end of his life.
“Gee, Dad,” I’d say trying to lighten up the situation. “I weigh more than you now.”
A few days before Dad’s memorial service Mom and I went to pick up his urn that contained his ashes from the mortuary.
“Your Dad had some very heavy bones,” the woman said. “His bones alone weighed six pounds.”
Together with the urn I was carrying about nine pounds. Guess sucking all that pig’s marrow and fish fat did the trick, adding to Dad’s bone mass.
I now have a competitor for the lok lok gwut and chicken skin. Last Thanksgiving after the turkey had been carved and served, Mom took home the carcass to make jook as is our tradition. But she gave the crunchy cartilage to Bosco, her dog.
I recently had a tooth pulled due to decay and I had a bridge put in.
“Eating cartilage will break your teeth, Jada.”
She didn’t say that to Dad and I while he was alive. She didn’t dare challenge the head of the household.
A Filipino college friend of mine, a fellow skin eater, once said, “I’m gonna die happy eating chicken skin.”
I’ll raise a leg to that.