I was eating the other night, painstaking removing the tiny bones off baked sardines. I often do not eat fish, since I’ve come to America. But I saw a package of frozen sardines at the commissary, and it reminded me of home. Of me when I was little. I thought, “Hmmm. I could buy that and cook it like we used to.” So I did.
Actually. The way I’ve cooked the sardines is nothing like how we used to cook them. When I was little, we didn’t have the luxury of cooking fish with all sorts of stuff to make it taste good. We often cooked them only with salt, vinegar, and maybe some garlic, if we had any, and a little bit of water. They tasted good, especially when eaten with a newly harvested rice. And really, eating a barely seasoned fish is so much better than eating rice only sprinkled with a few grains of sea salt.
And then something happened when I came to America. I stopped liking fish. At least not as much as I’m used to . Even when we were in Japan. My friends would get excited when they talked about buying fresh fish. I wasn’t. But, on several occassions I bought fish and cooked them simply. Like how we used to cook them when I was little. The fish didn’t taste good. It simply didn’t. It was missing something. I don’t know what it was. It just did not tasted the same. I was sad because I wanted so much to like fish again. Maybe it wasn’t the fish. Maybe it was me. Maybe my my taste have changed? I know my view in life have changed…
When I was little, we lived poorly. In a nipa hut full of holes, which got soaked inside when it rained. And bamboo floor that have weathered millions of footsteps, and bearing broken pieces on some corners. As for our kitchen, we never had an oven. Cooking was done in a makeshift stove. A woodburing stove, made of platform filled with soft clay. Three headsize stones that form a triangle, are buried deep in the clay so as to make them stable. Wooden sticks are used to build fire in between the triangle.
I decided to bake the sardines. To the sardines, I added chopped garlic, sliced red onions and tomatoes, a small piece ginger, pounded; sea salt, vinegar, a little bit of water and olive oil. And I baked them for 40 minutes at 350°F.
Surprisingly, the sardines came out very good. Very flavorful. The first I liked in a very long time. The only problem is – removing the tiny bones, which is tedious and time consuming. Too much work for too little gain. The very reason why my husband hates fish. He will eat fish only if its filleted. Even then, unexpected one or two bones comes up. As for my son, he does not like fish at all. Any fish. It makes him gag. I’m the only one, who once in a while, have the patience to sit in front of the dining table and pick the bones off a fish.
So, as I was painstakingly removing the tiny bones off the sardines I was eating, I remember a fish bone stuck in my throat, when I was barely four. After hours of trying to remove it, eating a handful of rice, drinking a glassful of water, and then rubbing my throat, the fish remains stuck. Mom always takes a drastic action. She sticks a finger or two down my throat to find the elusive bone. After a few hours. Still no luck. She couldn’t find the bone, even after several attempts. And after gagging each time. Feeling like my esopahgus is rolling upward. Finally, a decision was made. She and my Dad are going to take me to Elizabeth’s house. A fourteen year old girl, who had been granted powers to heal. All these powers just because she was born feet first.
Where I come from, the way she was born, in a primitive way, no hospital, only an old woman to deliver her, at home, she was supposed to not survived. And so as her mother. But, miraculously they both did.
She was known to have the power to magically remove the bones stuck in people’s throuat, and magically heal broken bones. My parents were hoping that she could perform the same micracle with me. I did too. Having a bone stuck in my throat was painful. And my throat was starting to swell up, because the bone is still lodged in there somewhere.
Once we were at Elizabeth’s house, Mom laid me down on a woven mat, on the floor. I remember was Elizabeth rubbing my throat, gently, with a downward stroke, with her uncalloused hand. And after about an hour, we were sent back home.
I don’t know what happened to the bone. Maybe it got dislodged. All I know is I couldn’t feel it anymore. It’s no longer in my throat.
Whether she had power. I really didn’t care. All I care is for that bone to go away. For my throat to feel better, and not have to painfully struggle each time I swallowed my saliva.
When my siblings and I were very young and didn’t have the ability to effectively remove tiny bones off small fishes like sardines, Mom would do it for us. And then when we got to be around five or six, we were left to do it ourselves. Mom was busy doing it for the younger ones.
Filleting fish was unheard of where I come from. We cooked fish, big and small, with bones intact. And hoped to avoid all the bones when we eat them. But more often than not, we have bones stuck in our throats. So Mom wound often say…
“Here. Eat more rice,” as she pushed a big palmful of rice into our mouths. And then she’ll hand us a glass of water. “Is it gone?” she’d ask after gulping the water.
“No. It’s still there. My throat hurts.” I’d complain, tears running down my face.
“Here. Eat some more rice! Make sure you swallow it all at once.” She commanded. “And here. Drink some more water.” “Is it gone…?” she’ll ask again.
“No Nanay (Mom). It’s still there! It hurts…!” slightly sobbing now.
“OK… come here,” as she pulls me closer to her. She starts rubbing my throat, hoping to dislodge the bone. Or worst. She’d start trying to find that bone and dislodge it off my throat with her finger. If the bone is stuck deeper and she couldn’t get to it… she’ll say…
“OK Eday (baby), I can’t get it out. Just keep rubbing your throat with your hand. I’ll go away. You’ll see.”
Or she’ll say…
“Tell you what. Why don’t you go to sleep. When you wake up, it’ll be gone.”
So I go to sleep… with slightly swollen throat hoping that the bone is gone when I wake up…