Archive of ‘seafood’ category
Everyone has a tattoo in the Marquesas. On their faces, hands, limbs, and I am sure all over their body. They are beautiful, unique
“Without tattoos you were worth less than a pig,” a Swiss anthropologist doing research in Hiva Oa told me.
Tattoos mark life events and define who you are, what you can do, and what you have been through. When girls became old enough to help their mothers in the kitchen, for instance, they got a tattoo on a finger of their right hand. Without that tattoo the girl isn’t allowed to handle food.
A tattoo on the face usually marks momentous events, protection from an accident, the death of a family member, the birth of a child, or the like. Even in the West people may get a tattoo to commemorate a major life event.
Today, the tattoo culture is not as strict as it once was. People don’t need tattoos to handle food. Not every girl gets a tattoo marking her first period. Not everyone we saw had a tattoo, but the culture remains and tattoos are respected and honored.
Every island has its own specific tattoos, even islands only a mile apart has its own distinct tattoos. Thus, if you know what you are looking for, you can identify exactly where a person is from.
I know several cruisers who have gotten tattooed in the Marquesas to celebrate their long crossing. As beautiful as Polynesian tattoos are, I decided not to get one. Especially after talking with my fellow crew members.
In Japan, Toshi San told me, tattoos are the mark of someone in the Yakuza, the Japanese Mob. Even if you are a foreigner, having a tattoo can get you banned from entering certain establishments. In most onsens, the popular hot springs of Japan, you are not allowed to enter if you have a tattoo. Even a little star on the ankle will get you kicked out of an onsen. It is incredible how what gives a person status in one country will strip you of respect in another.
Food however, is something that brings people and cultures together. Different cultures have their takes on food, but seeing different approaches and sampling new things is half the fun of travel.
I adore fish. Some people are squeamish about raw fish, but I can’t get enough of sashimi, which is what most people think of when they think of raw fish, but Japan is far from the only culture with a raw fish dish integral to their cuisine. There is ceviche in South America, carpaccio in Italy, or the Scandinavian gravlax, just to name a few.
French Polynesia’s version is called Poisson Cru au Lait Coco, literally translated raw fish with coconut milk. This delicious dish is pretty close to ceviche with coconut milk. There are variations of this dish throughout the South Pacific. This recipe is loosely based on one Sandra, our contact in the Marquesas, gave me.
Poseidon’s Poisson Cru au Lait Coco
Juice from 10 limes (about 1 ½ cups juice)
2 lbs. fresh fish (tuna is best but mahi mahi will do)
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 cucumber, julienned
1 t salt
½ t pepper
1 T Maggi Seasoning
1 c coconut milk
Cut fish into bite-sized cubes about ½”—1”
Pour lime juice over the fish, the juice should just cover the fish
Cover and refrigerate 1 hour
Mix in onions and season with salt, pepper, and Maggi
Refrigerate 24 hours giving the citric acid time to cook the fish
10 minutes before serving stir in cucumber and mix in coconut milk
Serve in cabbage leaves
You’re crewing on a Japanese-owned boat? You much catch a ton of fish!
Well, not so much. Not a one in the Bahamas. We did catch a ton of barracuda in Cuba, but we’d thrown all of them back. It may have been open water but we had absolutely no desire to mess with ciguatera, the fish-borne illness that’s featured in various places on the spectrum from wish-you-were-dead to actually deadly. We had caught a king fish and a few little things in harbors, but fish seemed to be keeping clear of Umineko.
Toshi San cleaning bonito
But our luck seemed to be changing on our long passage. We caught our first big(ish) fish. And a tasty one too, a bonito, and perfect for a Japanese boat. Japanese cooking uses bonito, or katsuo, flakes and stock in a whole lot of their dishes. I just had never tasted a fresh one.
When Toshi San, our resident fish expert, deftly cleaned our catch I found out the 10 pound catch had red meat. I’m not sure why I’d been expecting it to have white, but the dark red meat looked good. For this catch we had a real Japanese feast, curtsey of Toshi San, or as I like to call him, my sakane sensai (fish sensai).
He showed me how to trim all of the edges off of the fillets, leaving only the “beautiful” meat, for sashimi and chirashi sushi. We waste all of the scraps? I asked him, horrified. Not at all, he replied, putting them in a small pan.
He chopped up some fresh ginger and arranged it over the fish. Then he poured a little mirin, a little soy sauce, a few spoonfuls of sugar, and enough water to cover the fish.
“I’ve been cooking fish since I was a child,” he told me. I never measure anything. I don’t have to!”
The dish was delicious but as I’m still not up to judging how much of what goes in I won’t put the recipe up. I’ll just have to experiment a bit more.
For the “beautiful dishes,” we made easy sushi rice, cooking the rice, folding in a sushi powder packet, and then training a fan on it: The modern take on hand-fanned sushi.
Then we thickly sliced the most beautiful fish rolls, each piece about 1” thick. He explained to me that dark meat was generally sliced more thickly in Japan.
He sliced the meat and arranged the pieces one after the other in elegant lines on a plate. Each one fit together perfectly. Next he chopped 3 cloves of garlic and spread it over the bonito. Finally he sprinkled finely chopped spring onions over the top, wrapped it in plastic film, and refrigerated it until dinner time.
I was in charge of arranging the toppings for the chirashi sushi. With the three dishes we had a glorious bonito feast that day.
Blue Water Bonito Sashimi
Blue Water Bonito Sushi
- 3 cloves chopped garlic
- Spring onion
A scream of stark terror pierced the night.
“What happened!?” Toshi San was quick to ask.
I tried to forget the memory of the cold, slimy form wriggling between my toes.
You don’t expect to step on a flying fish in the hallway to your cabin. The hatch hadn’t been open more than a crack, but somehow the creature had found its way in. They were everywhere.
Like gifts from the sea gods, heaps of flying fish graced our trampoline and deck every morning. We had so many, Sato San started noting how many fish we’d gotten on the daily log. Each line had date, Position, how many miles we had left of the total, position, temperature, and number of flying fish noted.
Daily Log Board
On every other yacht I’d sailed flying fish were thrown over the side. The ones who crashed harder were cursed for smearing the deck with their scales (a nightmare to scrub off once you were in port). Umineko was different. Once, I threw one over the side and Sato San gasped in horror. We can eat those!
I had never even considered it, but he explained to me he really wanted flying fish for breakfast the next day. Yup, you heard right. Breakfast. Sure, fish for breakfast may sound strange to Westerners. I was certainly surprised. But I am almost always up for trying new things. After all, why crew on a Japanese boat if you don’t want to expand your culinary expertise and horizons?
And there it was. Flying fish were on the menu. But making one type of fish dish is boring. I had to diversify. Soon it became a challenge. What different types of flying fish could I make?
After about a week of flying fish for breakfast Sato San was still gung-ho about the whole thing, but other crew members (whom shall remain nameless) were pleading for a Western breakfast. Flying fish are quite tasty prepared the right way, but no matter how many variations you make no matter how hard you try they don’t do very well in American-style pancakes.
You cruisers may have never thought about frying up your flying fish, but I highly recommend it. Fish you don’t even have to hook? Why not? The Umineko boys were all about the bigger the fish the better. I have a different take on things. The small ones take less work. Like a lot less.
When a flying fish gets to a certain size they grow scales and you can’t eat the bones. I’m not a huge fan of or expert at descaling and filleting fish. It’s even more annoying when there are a ton of flying fish to clean. But the captain liked them. I got pretty skilled at it, though I still was much happier when the little ones offered themselves up for our breakfast.
As they are a bit of a chore to clean maybe not cooking them every day they appear on the deck, but I definitely recommend giving them a try once or twice. As I mentioned, I tried quite a few takes on flying fish, but this was one of my favorite recipes.
Fair Winds Flying Fish Donburi
- Rice, cooked
- Pickled veggies (we use pickled daikon(takuan), kimchee, and whatever other pickles we have)
- Flying fish, cleaned
- 2 T butter
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 T soy sauce
- 1 T mirin (you can substitute 1 T water and 2 t sugar)
- Heat butter in pan over medium heat
- Fry garlic for 1 minute
- Add flying fish, skin-side down and cook 2-3 minutes (depending on size)
- Flip fish and cook another minute
- Add soy sauce and mirin and cook one more minute
- Serve over rice with pickles
A flight of something thwacked into our path as we were dinghying across the Bahamian waters.
“What do you think that was?” the captain asked me.
“Flying fish,” I replied. What else could it be?
“Calamari!” the captain replied, grinning and holding up a small squid.
I had never even heard of flying squid before a sail around the Bahamas several years prior, or since. Until the passage from Panama, that is. The first day after we passed the Galapagos flying fish started appearing on our trampoline. Gifts from the sea gods, of course. The first day there were a few flying fish and one little squid.
Cook them for breakfast, Sato San urged. The flying fish were alright, but the squid was scrumptious.
“There’ll be 10 squid this morning,” I said to Toshi San on watch that night. I didn’t really believe it, but to my delight there was a flock of flying squid on the trampoline as the sun came up. Not quite 10, but enough for a tasty snack.
That morning for breakfast I served them as a side dish to our usual rice breakfast. They were delectable, perfectly done. And what a wonderful addition of fresh food to the provisions! Unlike catching monstrous tuna or mahi mahi you aren’t eating it for weeks either.
We didn’t have as many flying squid gifts on the trampoline, but they really are delicious. I highly recommend frying them up if you find them on your deck or trampoline on passage. You do have to take out the little plastic-y tube
Falling off Flying Squid
- ½ lb squid, about 10
- 2 T soy
- 1 T cooking sake
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 T butter
- Clean the squid, they always have a little plastic-y tube inside but they are usually small enough not to have a beak or anything else that needs removal. Place in small bowl
- Sprinkle cooking sake over squid (it removes any possible odor)
- In small frying pan heat butter over medium heat
- Fry garlic 1-2 minutes
- Add soy
- Cook squid 30 seconds on each side, they will plump up a little bit and translucent flesh will turn opaque
- Put over rice
If you’re going to keep the squid until lunch you might want to refrigerate it.
Okay, this was in Panama… we sailed past the Galapagos in the dead of night but hey, islands.
The Galapagos. Ever since reading the Kurt Vonnegut book I had wanted to sail there. Almost every cruiser heading through the Panama Canal to the Marquesas stops off at the Galapagos. It’s the logical stopping-point to break up the prodiigeous 4,000 nautical mile passage. Sure, it’s a lot closer to Panama, about 845 nautical miles away. But still, it’s a nice break to help you remember what land feels like.
Toshi San and I both really wanted to go. Mori San wouldn’t have minded either (provided there was a post office there, Mori San’s one requirement for visiting even the remotest of locations). Unfortunately Sato San was dead set against it. It was costly, there was a lot of paperwork, we might use up too much fuel, and he was in a bit of a hurry to reach Darwin for the start of the Sail Indonesia Rally in July. Then there were the sea lions. He’d heard horror stories from our friends in the previous WARC about sea lions climbing up on boats and making their noisy, stinky, aggressive selves at home.
Still, we were sailing within 10 nautical miles of the islands, near enough to smell them, without stopping. Sadder still our friends on Spirit of Alcides were taking the time to stop and explore the islands. But as much as Toshi San, Mori San, and I wanted to go, it wasn’t up to us. Though crew may offer suggestions, a boat is not a democracy. The captain always has the final say.
Though it can be frustrating, the captain really does have to have complete control of what goes on on a boat (this control does not extend to the galley. I am captain of my galley. It helps the boat run smoothly and keeps things together in rough seas or trying times. Not that the captain has to be a Bligh or anything. He can listen, but bottom line is that, the captain always has the final say. Alas this meant I didn’t get to visit the Galapagos this time around.
I was on watch with Toshi San at 3:30 am when we sailed by. Oh there was joking about “accidently” going off course and ending up there but no. No giant turtles or blue footed boobies for us. Not this time. I guess I have to save something for next time around.
That morning we had left-over rice from the night before. Rice is integral in Japanese cooking. From the start Sato San made it clear that at least one meal of the day should be accompanied by rice. I usually cook just the right amount. But what happens when you make too much rice?
Growing up one of my favorite left over breakfasts was rice cakes. Now “rice cake” can mean so many different things. Of course there are the Styrofoam-like “healthy” rice cakes. You know, the ones that taste like nothing unless they are flavored with some salt or seasoning? Then there are Korean rice cakes which are similar to Japanese mochi. These dense cylinders of rice flour pressed into a chewy pasta are used in one of my favorite dishes, dduk boki.
These rice cakes are completely different. They are more like rice pancakes. They make an easy and tasty breakfast not to mention being a wonderful way of using up left-over rice from the night before.
Captain’s Call Rice Cakes
- 3 c cooked rice
- ¼ c spring onions, finely chopped
- ½ c canned corn
- ½ c fake crab meat, chopped (optional)
- 2 T Vegeta seasoning
- 4 eggs
- Oil for frying
- Okonomayaki sauce (optional)
- Put rice in large bowl
- Mix in eggs, corn, fake crab meat, and vegeta
- Scoop onto oiled skillet with ladle
- Cook in oiled skillet over medium heat until golden, 2-3 minutes on each side
- Serve hot
The barter system is still thriving in the sailing community. One of my favorite trades was on Elephant Island in San Blas. I traded some banana bread for a winch handle. I was delighted with my side, but the Australian couple seemed equally pleased with their banana bread. The woman even threw in some clothes she liked the bread so much! That isn’t quite the norm though.
At Shelter Bay marina by Colon, Panama was a party every night. Not only were the fabulous people from WARC 2014 there, but as with most marinas there were interesting people living on many of the boats. We befriended one megayacht’s crew, a young South African surfer and a wry Brit. They had caught an enormous tuna a few days earlier and asked me if I wanted any of the meat.
I jumped on the offer and told them that I would cook them dinner with it. This kind of barter on boats is a lot more common. Very few yachts have a ton of freezer space and even fewer have a flash freezer. When a crew of four catches a 20-lb tuna you’re a) going to be eating a lot of tuna for a while and b) will have to give away at least some of it if you don’t want to throw it away.
This leads to quite a few presents and exchanges of fish between yachties. And if you’re given fish it only makes sense to cook it for your patron.
What could we do with delicious fresh tuna though? Sashimi was an option, of course, but that was more of a starter. We needed something for a lovely dinner party.
I first tried chirashi sushi, or chirashizushi in Argentina when my lovely friend Machiko invited me over for dinner. I fell in love with it from the first bite. Chirashizushi means “scattered” sushi and it is also a favorite in Japanese home cooking. Since then I have tried chirashi sushi in a restaurant, rice with decadent slabs of sashimi, but I really prefer the homemade variety.
It isn’t hard to make, and like so many Japanese dishes it looks beautiful. If you bring chirashi sushi you will be sure to be the hit of the dinner party.
Charter Chirashi Sushi
- 4 cups short grained or sushi rice
- 1 packet Tamanoi Sushinoko sushi rice seasoning powder
- 3 lbs fresh tuna (3-days old is ideal)
- Pickled daikon, thinly sliced or shredded
- Nori, cut into thin strips
- Kazimi ginger (pink pickled ginger in thin strips)
- 2 eggs
- Cook rice
- Spread in large bowl, and fan to cool
- Gently fold in sushi rice seasoning powder using flat rice spoon
- You shouldn’t make the sushi rice so far in advance that you need to refrigerate it. In fact, it should never be refrigerated. The ideal sushi rice is served at body temperature.
- Spread on a flat platter
- Beat the eggs and cook 2 minutes over medium heat in small square skillet if you have one. A small skillet will do.
- Flip and cook the other side about 1 minute
- Turn onto cutting board and cut into thin strips (it’s called tamagoyaki)
- Cut fish into bite-sized chunks
- Arrange fish, kazami ginger, tamagoyaki, nori strips, and pickled daikon strips over rice
- Serve and enjoy!
Hiroshima Pizza? I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when the captain of the Japanese boat told us that’s what he would be making for the potluck with the American boat I was crewing on. When I tried the actual dish I immediately fell in love with the delicious dish.
A year later I was crewing on the same Japanese boat making okonomiyaki myself.
The captain, Sato San’s “Hiroshima Pizza,” is actually called okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is a popular Japanese food, often described as “Japanese pizza.” He called it Hiroshima pizza because he hails from Hiroshima and makes Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki.
Okonomiyaki is really more of a crepe than a pizza. To be totally fair it’s a unique dish. The crepe steams a mountain of vegetables and the other side is sealed with egg, seafood, and bacon. Well, really whatever you want. Okonomiyaki, means whatever you like baked or grilled a combination of the Japanese words okanomi, however you like and yaki, baked or grilled. Versions vary widely, I learned Hiroshima style, but I never use bacon or sliced pork for mine. Traditionally squid is used, but around the world we have substituted squid, conch, and on one special occasion lobster.
When writing this recipe I realized how complicated it seemed. It’s a lot of preparation but making okonomiyaki really isn’t difficult. You just have to follow the steps.
This is a video Globe Hackers made of an Okonomiyaki Party we had in Cuba
Makes 6 okonomiyaki
- 1 cup bean sprouts
- ½ head cabbage very thinly sliced
- ¾ cup spring onions, in 5 mm slices
- 1 cup squid
- 2 Tablespoons sake (optional)
- 4 packs ramen noodles
- 4 slices Bacon (or thin sliced pork if available)
- 4 slices cheese (I use individually wrapped Mozzarella or Swiss cheese slices)
- 12 eggs
- Squid chips (or crunchy tempura bits)
- Fish powder
- Aonori (ground seaweed)
- Kewpie mayonnaise
- 1 large, flat griddle. This is integral for making okonomiyaki. A pancake griddle can be used
- 2 spatulas
- 1 soup ladle
- Whisk flour and water together into a thin crepe-like batter and set aside
- Cut the cabbage into quarters. Slice the cabbage as thinly as possible. Place in large bowl, set aside
- Chop spring onions into 5 mm sections. Place in bowl , set aside
- Cut squid or seafood into ⅛ strips, pour sake over to kill the smell, set aside
- Cut bacon slices into thirds, arrange on plate, set aside
- Boil ramen noodles in water with 1 T oil (to prevent sticking) for 2 minutes (slightly al dente) pour into colander and run cold water over to prevent cooking too long, and set aside
- Heat griddle over medium heat and oil
- Put ½ pack of ramen noodles on griddle. Let cook 30 seconds to release moisture
- Season with black pepper and okonomi sauce and mix together and move to side of griddle
- Oil griddle and pour 1 ladle-full of batter smoothing it into thin circle
- When edges of crepe start to lift, sprinkle with fish powder
- Using spatulas lift noodles onto top of crepe
- Place one slice of cheese over noodles
- Arrange large handful of cabbage over cheese
- Layer bean sprouts, spring onions, and squid (or tempura)chips on top
- Lay bacon on top of heap
- Drizzle ½ ladle full of batter over top
- Allow to cook about 2 minutes or until the bottom browns slightly
- Slide spatulas under either side of the crepe bottom and flip okonomiyaki quickly. Be sure to flip towards you.
- Cook for about 5 minutes allowing the inside to steam and until the bacon to cook to a golden brown. Slide okonomiyaki to one side of the griddle
- Oil center of griddle and place about ⅙ of squid in middle cooking for about 30 seconds
- Arrange squid into a barrier ring and crack 2 eggs inside.
- Mix eggs together and lift okonomiyaki on top
- Cook another 2 minutes, until eggs are golden brown
- Flip onto plate and squirt okonomiyaki sauce and kewpie mayonnaise on top in whatever pretty pattern you like
- Finally sprinkle aonori on top. Serve and enjoy!
Don’t be too upset of you can’t finish your okonomiyaki dinner. I love fresh okonomiyaki, but leftovers are almost as good. Better, some would say.
Floridita, Hemingway’s favorite bar
Touristic Havana can be expensive, or at least the prices can be comparable to the US. Often even at higher prices selection is limited (I couldn’t find something as simple as flour in Havana to save my life). But if you know where to go, or are lucky and stumble across them, there are wonderful hidden treasures to be found for next-to-nothing.
While walking through the streets of Havana Vieja, a Cuban invited an Australian couple into his house and sold them 4 good-sized lobster tails for 5 CUC! I never had that happen, nor as a girl walking around on my own would I have gone inside a strange Cuban man’s house alone. I found my treasures other places.
We were running out of seafood on Umineko so one of Marina Hemmingway’s expats took me in search of fish on his scooter. We asked several Cubans on the streets of Jaimanitas, a suburb of Havana. Most of them shrugged their shoulders, but at last a little Cuban grandmother pointed out the house where a man had fish. The man opened his freezer and it was brimming with frozen fish. He took out one enormous bag of fillets, followed by a large bag of lobster tails, and finally an enormous block of grey-brown something.
“Cangrejo,” he told me. Crab. After a bit of bargaining he sold me 5 kilos of cleaned crab for 8 CUC. We were eating delicious crab on Umineko for months. As Sato San’s favorite American dish (and one of mine) is crab cakes. This is perfect as crab cakes are extremely easy to make, freeze, and then heat up again as needed.
If you have the ingredients, I definitely recommend making a bunch of crab cakes and freezing them for a passage. They are easy to make, easier to heat up, and are always a hit.
Catamaran Crab Cakes
- 1 lb lump crab
- ½ large onion, finely chopped
- 2 T mayonnaise
- 2 T Dijon mustard
- 1 T old bay seasoning
- 1 T lemon juice
- 4 eggs
- ¼ c green onions, finely sliced
- 1 c bread crumbs
- Stir all ingredients together until mixed but not too much (leave crab lumps) in medium bowl
- Heat large skillet over medium heat until hot
- Spray with cooking spray
- Spoon crab mixture onto skillet in ⅓ c portions
- Press down into patties
- Cook 3 minutes
- Flip and cook another 3 minutes
- Enjoy then or freeze for later
Crab cakes freeze extremely well and are great for heating up underway
Pinky and the Brain
Before we could even pick up a mooring ball off of George Town a dinghy motored up, calling to us. “We have a mooring ball for you. Just follow me.,” a boy who couldn’t have been older than early 20′s led us around the island to the St Francis Resort. We had been looking forward to getting to the North American St. Francis headquarters. We had met George, the owner at the Annapolis Boat Show and it was always nice to see other St Francis catamarans; Umineko was a St. Francis. The first hull. But we hadn’t expected such a warm welcome.
I was still glowing from my dolphin encounter the day before. But one of my priorities reaching land was finding a home for the orphans I had acquired…
When I opened a interesting fan-shaped mollusk I had collected, I discovered two tiny baby lobsters, one pink, the other so young it was still clear. The pink one was about 1/18” from the tip of his claws to the end of his tail and the clear one smaller yet. I dubbed them Pinky and the Brain and put them in a make-shift salt water terrarium determined to find a home for them with someone on land.
The first thing I did when getting to the bar (well, after ordering a delicious frozen strawberry daiquiri) was ask around to see if anyone would take my charges. To my delight George’s wife offered to. This delightful woman adores animals and welcomed Pinky and the Brain into her menagerie. It was a wonderful introduction to the St. Francis Resort.
Okay, so it may be in poor taste to have a lobster spread, but it’s not like I actually ate either of the babies. Even nicer she doesn’t even like lobster so Pinky and the Brain are safe from becoming an appetizer.
I created this spread on crewing on a different boat and it is divine. You don’t need a food processor to make it but it is handy if you have one.
Luffing Lobster Spread
- 1 package Philadelphia cream cheese
- 1/4 c lemon juice
- 3 T milk
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 T salt
- 3 or 4 steamed rock lobster tails (about 2-3 lb lobsters)
- Steam lobster tails
- While steaming tails mix remaining ingredients in medium bowl
- Chop tails finely and mix into cream cheese mixture
- Chill in refrigerator for a day for the flavors to blend (if you can wait that long)
I slipped on the snorkel and slid off of the paddle board into the shallow aquamarine Bahamas waters. Looking down I saw the shapes of 5 rays hiding under the sand, their tails sticking up just their eyes exposed, watching warily. The ethereal form of one meter-wide ray glided gracefully past. He must have given his brethren some sort of signal. I shrieked in surprise (as much as one can shriek around a snorkel) as 5 enormous rays exploded upward in a cloud of sand. That was the start of it.
I had promised to find lobster in the Bahamas. The last time I was sailing there it seemed that the islands were thick with them, hiding in every rock and crevasse. We had eaten them until we couldn’t face another bite of lobster. This time was different I had found lobster! Paddle-boarding up to a fishing boat, but Sato San wanted to actually hunt lobster. Wild lobster. Today was our last chance. Our last stop before George Town, then it was on to Cuba.
We anchored off of Leestocking Cay and I looked approvingly at the rocky coastline. Rocks and crags… this was lobster territory. We dinghied slowly over to the rocky shoreline to search for the lobsters that were surely hiding there.
Taira San and Sato San in the dinghy, me in tow on the paddleboard looking for potential dinners. I stopped several times to pick up a couple of conch and some interesting fan-shaped shellfish that stuck out of the sand. In case we didn’t find any lobster it would be good to have a back-up plan.
Sato San, Taira San and I split up and did a thorough scouring of the area, checking under rocks and crannies from one beach to the next. Sea cucumbers, dozens of dead conch, thousands of miniscule transparent fish, but not so much as a lobster antenna to be seen. Near the second beach I saw Sato San again who suggested we head back to the dinghy. I was all for it, over an hour in the water and I was getting cold.
As everyone else had flippers and I didn’t, I was the straggler. Not that I minded. The ocean-life was beautiful, especially in the 3’-8’ waters near the shore. The porous volcanic rock hosted a myriad of fish and sea life. Still, I was half on the lookout for dinner.
From out of nowhere, a lithe grey shape whizzed up to me and slowed for a swim-by. My eyes widened. A dolphin! I hadn’t seen a single dolphin since leaving the States almost a month earlier and now one swam right past me! The dolphin turned tightly to hook back to swim within a meter.
His soft black eye looked inquisitively at me as he swam past. If he had been wearing a cap he would have doffed it. A few feet further the dove-grey gentleman looped back swimming back towards me. My heart soared. I could hardly believe it. Less than 5’ long, my dolphin friend had to be a teenager. He clearly fascinated by the strange creature in the water. Still, he had small notch out of his left flipper, maybe curiosity had gotten the best of him another time.
The spritely character swam inclined his cute snub nose to look at me before circling out a meter away and let out a high-pitched squeal. I tried to make a similar high-pitched sound, but dolphin is even harder to pick up than Japanese. After a few minutes of interaction my new friend swam away. I watched the tail grow fainter and fainter in the water.
Suddenly, to my delight, the dolphin was back at my side. He started big 5’ loops around me. One towards the surface, another diving to examine me from all angles. Time stood still as he started swimming in faster, tighter circles around me. I could have reached out my arm and brushed him, but somehow I sensed that wasn’t proper dolphin etiquette.
We danced, me twirling around almost in place his circles were so close. Not wanting to miss a second of the experience I drank everything in. The aero(hydro?)dynamic rounded lines that slid through the water with ease. The trim figure, but most of all the expressive features. I had read of dolphin’s intelligence, but experiencing it first-hand it struck me deeply.
He drifted out several feet and rolled over on one side exposing his belly to me. I rolled over in the same move. When I let my legs drift down, he “stood up” in the water, his tail near the bottom, head near the surface mimicking my upright stance. We were imitating one another!
When my friend surfaced for air and dipped back under the waves I smiled. This was another mammal. We had the bond of air-breathers in this underwater world. I wanted more than anything to be able to communicate. His deep intelligent eyes and actions, told me the dolphin clearly wanted the same. But I was the slow ape in his fast-paced world. After 10-minutes I stopped being quite so interesting and my friend swam away leaving me with a warm sense of connection.
It lasted about a minute. As soon as I turned away and begin to swim back to the dinghy a menacing grey dart-shaped form took my friend’s place. Ice-cold chills crept up my spine as the razor-sharp lines of a 4-foot barracuda cruised up and hovered a meter away from me. I wasn’t about to turn my back on this sinister character. If the dolphin’s eyes had seemed playful, this character’s cold, flat eyes and jutting teeth screamed one thing: danger. I hoped and prayed the dolphin would come back to no avail.
I called for Sato San and luckily he was nearby with a lobster spear and frightened the predator away. Luckily, I had taken off my ring. I had no desire to offer swimming destruction any shiny temptation. We got back to Umineko the boys lamenting the fact that we didn’t find any lobster. I opened up the fan-shaped shell to reveal more than just the slimy sea creature. Two baby lobsters were living in the shell too! One red and the other clear, both around the size of an eraser! Hey, they asked me to find lobster – they didn’t specify what size.
I cooked the conch and the disgusting slimy fan-shaped shellfish in a seafood biryani. The adorable baby lobsters are my new pets and live in a shallow bowl of salt water with half the shell. I am hoping to find an appropriate home for them in George Town.
Douglas Adams may not have been too far off in So Long and Thanks for all the Fish. Dolphins might not be extraterrestrial but who’s to say they aren’t as intelligent as humans. I don’t want to anthropomorphize dolphins. They are an entirely different species. Their surroundings have caused their brains to develop in very different ways from us. But they are intelligent, curious, inquisitive, and interested in exploring and learning about their world.
I think that it would be anthrocentric of us to claim humans are smarter than these creatures. Intelligent in different ways, of course, but humans could learn so much from these creatures. I long to communicate better. I know that scientists have been working on it for years, but if somehow we managed to crack the dolphin language…
Backstay Seafood Chana Biryani
1 lb conch, chopped
1 fillet fish, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 lb squid
2 c rice
1 c chick peas, cooked
½ onion, chopped
½ carrot, chopped
5 cardomom pods
1 t cinnamon
2 t garam masala
1 t turmeric
2 t grated ginger
1 t cumin seeds
½ t coriander seeds
1 t salt
3 c water
2 c rice
¼ c cranberries
½ c cashews
Cook seafood in pressure cooker about 20 minutes
Sauté garlic and onions in oil in deep pan for about 3 minutes
Add carrot and cook another 2 minutes
Add spices and stir until veggies are coated
Add rice and stir until coated
Add water and bring to a boil
Steam for 15 minutes
Add chick peas
Drain seafood and stir into biryani rice mixture