Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Alligator and Uncle Ben

I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. I befriended the Hong Kong Island Restaurant's owner that I frequented and had just started to supplying fish to. He bought mostly flounders and whitings. Their sweet sour fish was the best. I had my dinner there on days when Tony and I did not cook. I had weaned off the occasional visit to McDonald or Hardee’s since I befriended him. I even took him and his entire kitchen crews, 6 of them, to fishing at Dauphin Fishing pier once. They had never fished before but they sure had luck. Every pull and miss hook was met with squeak, shrill cry, ooh and ahh, filled the jetty. We have great fun since they have no qualms in handling the fish as they were the expert in kitchen. The smiles on their face when they hold up a fish freshly caught were priceless. We caught 3 sheepsheads, many whitings and white trouts and my friends bought a further 2 more sheepsheads from Sam.
Whiting is similar to Redfish, 
but smaller and no spot.
(Picture credit: www.tx-sharkfishing.com)
We traveled back to their restaurant in a convoy of 2 cars. As we rounded a bend, we immediately crept behind a snake of jammed cars. There were no cars that came through on the opposite direction as well. 'Accident' was my first thought. As I cranked down my car window and craned my neck to see what was ahead, about 10 cars down I can make out a big grayish dark silhouette on the middle of the road. I noticed that nobody exited their cars but they were honking continuously, and a guy on the back of a Ford pick-up truck, the first car next to the "thing", jumping up and down and shouted furiously. "Strange, if it is accident, everyone will be out and about, trying to help", I thought to myself again. The dark image on the road turned out to be an American alligator (a.k.a Gator), endemic to that region, about 13 feet long. It was laying across the entire road horizontally, soaking up the heat from the tar road, blocking all traffics. It was an offence to kill or injure an alligator without license. Someone had threw a chicken carcass near its mouth but it did not take it. Someone remarked that alligator loved to eat fish. Judging from the snake of the cars, it would have laid there for half an hour. I asked from my restaurant friend if it was OK to feed some fish to the alligator. With an affirmative answer, I tied a sheepshead to my fishing line (no hook) and rod. Then I seek permission from the guy on the back of pick-up truck to climbed up. He saw my fishing rod and fish that tied to the line and signaled me in. I cast the fish in front of the beast. Initially it did not seem to notice, then it's left eye opened slightly, and after my fourth or fifth casting, it suddenly lunged forward to grab the sheephead. I was in dilemma. If I reeled in the fish, it will followed the fish to the truck, causing more panic. In the end I decided to let the alligator keep the fish by cutting loose the line with a nail cutter. The alligator had just moved about a quarter away from its original position, still not enough for cars to pass through without hurting it. I grabbed a second sheepshead and this time I cast it about 10 feet in front of the alligator. This time the alligator moved in fast strides and with a side movement of it's head it snapped up the fish. The alligator now was all cleared off the road completely and I snipped my fishing line. Everyone at the scene applauded and I felt like a hero. One by one the cars can now passed safely and by the time my car passed by, the alligator was nowhere in sight. I reckon it had its belly full and now scooted off. We lost 2 fishes but suffice to say I got another check mark on my personal diary to have 'fished' an alligator. 
Alligator had stout snout and visible teeth compare to crocodile
Back at the restaurant, the crew cooked great dishes with the fishes, far better than mine, definitely. They steamed a sheepshead Cantonese style (of course, its a Hong Kong restaurant), deep fried one with sweet sour sauce and saved the last one for later. As for the whiting, some they cooked soup, the balance were fillet, battered in flour, deep fried and served piping hot on a bed of lettuce. This whiting were so good that they were polished off in record time. That reminded me of a tip I always use when having meal in a Chinese restaurant in the Western countries - "Is the chef Chinese? I will ask the waitress/waiter. If the answer is yes, then I continue "please tell the chef to cook my meal the way he will eat it at home", meaning requesting the chef will cook to suit his own Chinese taste, not to the western palate. Most of the time I get an authentic Chinese meal and normally the chef came out to meet me. I make friend with a homesick Chinese cook. Back to the restaurant, as I looked back, end of the day I had a great time with the new found friends from the Hong Kong restaurant, seeing them outside their realm on the pier, and enjoyed some good company. Better still I do not need to wash the dishes.
I treated my friends well and occasionally have dinner with Sam and Betty. I remembered I once cooked curry sheepshead (no head) with okra and white rice, and brought it over to their house.  At Betty’s kitchen I fried the white rice with onions, eggs and some hot dog from her refrigerator. Betty had prepared a pot of shrimp with okra gumbo with Uncle Ben's rice (an American rice brand name), Cajun style. Sam cannot take shrimp due to his medical condition. Dinner was fried rice, gumbo and curry fish.  As we were having dinner, sweats rolled down on Sam’s and Betty’s forehead even it was autumn and rather cool that night. Silly me! I forgot they were no Asian, so I may have put a dash too much curry powder. Nevertheless, they loved it and polished off the rice that I brought along. 
Shrimp Gumbo with Okra, a 
Southern state specialty
After dinner Betty asked me a question that puzzled me. The question was "how do you cook the rice that was so nice?". She mentioned her rice was not sticky like mine. I got Betty to show me how she cooked her rice. She took out a packet of Uncle Ben’s rice, washed it in a pot and put it to boil. 5 minutes later she poured out the boiling water and served the rice. The rice was fluffy but tasted flat. I guessed this was how American cooked rice but it was not the same as how I cooked mine. Later I showed them how to cook rice my way i.e. rice in the pot, measured the water level that covered up to the wrist when I pressed with my palm down to the rice, and let it boiled till water dried up.  They tasted it and gave a thumb up. They planned to keep it for lunch and dinner tomorrow. Satisfied, I left their dwelling, making a mental note to buy them a packet of Thai rice from my neighborhood Vietnamese store. Uncle Ben’s rice is not for Asian!


American rice - Uncle Ben's rice

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