I never wished to see this in practice, much less partake of it, but Jae-sun had a yen to cook it and none of the local fish markets bothered to stock something as small and unprofitable as a minnow.
Then one day he came home triumphant from his morning pilgrimage, proudly showing me not only twenty pounds of fresh skipjack, but a large bottle filled with water and teeming with tiny live minnows. Look! he cried out. They are not mudfish, but they will do.
Did you find these at the fish market?
No, I finally used my head. I went down to the docks yesterday and searched for a fisherman who would sell his catch to me directly, at a lower cost. I found a man with a small boat who said hed be willing, if I committed to buy a certain amount each week. He opened the brown butcher paper covering a three-pound bonito. This is of excellent quality, as you see. And you asked him to catch you some minnows?
He uses them for bait, so he gave me a jarful with his compliments. I cant wait to cook these up for a luncheon treat! He took out a large skillet, which would shortly become the instrument of doom for the tiny wriggling fish.
Ah, I said, as it happens, I am having lunch with Beauty today. This was a lie, of course, but one I could make true easily enough.
But this is a rare delicacy, and delicious!
I slipped out of the kitchen before the butter greased the skillet.
While Jae-sun feasted on bait, Beauty was happy to share some fried rice with me at Sai Fus Chop Sui House on Hotel Street. Panama Dave had swept her off her feet with his wit, romantic soul, and gentleness toward Mary, and she had fallen quickly and hopelessly in love with him. I was happy for herHeaven knew she deserved some romance and laughter in her lifebut when she began telling us at kye meetings about what they would do once they were married, Wise Pearl tactfully inquired whether Panama had actually asked for her hand.
Not yet, Beauty admitted, but Im sure he will.
Now, months later, Beauty was fretting that the proposal still was not forthcoming. I suggested, as gently as I could, that perhaps Panama was simply not the marrying kind.
Oh no, you dont know him, hes so sweet, she protested. A man can be sweet and loving and still not be interested in marriage.
He loves Mary. You see how good he is with her. He loves children.
He has a childlike spirit, its true, I said delicately, and Im sure he cares for Mary. But that does not necessarily mean he wants to be a father, or husband.
Beauty fell into a sullen pout and I elected to change the subject.
I returned to the cafe, where my husband was extolling the savory flavor of his tubu soup. He had saved me some, and I had to admit that it was tasty, as was the other fish he had purchased. We served it spiced and barbecued for bulgogi or grilled in a miso sauce. Thus began a long, fruitful business relationship, with our weekly order increasing steadily. After perhaps six weeks, Jae-sun came home with thirty pounds of bonito, yellowtail, and albacore, and with a certain diffidence he told me, Ive invited our supplier to the restaurant with his family. He only purchased this boat last year and I believe they struggle to make ends meet. I thought they might appreciate a taste of the fruit of his labors.
We should prepare them something special, then.
Excerpted from Honolulu by Alan Brennert, Copyright © 2009 by Alan Brennert. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press, a division of Macmillan, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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