Having grown up in Hawaii, I started fishing at an early age. Now, mind you, being raised in Hawaii does not automatically confer certain skills and hobbies upon one. For instance, I don’t surf and I am not going to be giving Michael Phelps a run for his medals.
I digress…. My grandparents lived by the ocean and we would visit them almost every weekend. It was a ritual, where Mom would pack up some stuff for the potluck, my aunt and cousin would try to outdo her with fancier potluck stuff, and my grandma would cook her wonderful food sans recipes. These gatherings were some of the few times Mom would let my sister and I have soda pop. On the way home, there was the obligatory stop for ice cream at the Dairy Queen or the local grocery store.
Oooh, sorry, there I go down Memory Lane again…..such a nice walk it is!
My grandma would take the grandkids fishing. We used bamboo poles and frozen squid or shrimp for bait. We would stand at the edge of a lagoon and drop our lines. We would go either early in the morning or in the early evening. The catch would usually be what we called “Opapalu” (I don’t know the translation from Hawaiian) or “Menpachi” (red squirrel fish, but it sure didn’t look like a squirrel to me). Sometimes we would catch the shore (read, lost hook, broken line) and once my cousin brought up a sea cucumber.
After catching the fish, the women in the family would spread out sheets of newspaper and clean the fish. Now, bear in mind, these are small fish, probably no bigger than ten to twelve inches in length.
My grandmother would then take the cleaned fish and fry them whole with a little dusting of flour in a pan. The “sauce” for the fish was a little drizzle of shoyu (soy sauce if you’re not from Hawaii) and maybe some chopped green onions if she was feeling festive.
I used to think that these fishing expeditions were special occasions, that we did this for fun and entertainment. As I grew older, I realized that my grandmother would fish regularly for dinner. I don’t know if it was out of necessity, as they lived over an hour away from the nearest big grocery store, or for pleasure. I would suspect it was probably a combination of both.
What I do know now is that these childhood fishing trips have spoiled me for fish in my adult life. Very rarely do I order fish when dining out, I never cook it at home, and I always have an internal chuckle when the salespersons try to tell me how fresh their wares are.
The house by the ocean has been sold to someone else for a long time now. Madame Pele has caused much destruction yet again to the area, and I know that some of our childhood haunts are gone, like the pool where the green turtle and puffer fish used to swim. I don’t even know if one can fish in that area anymore, as I am sure the molten lave hitting the ocean has raised the temperature of the water. Maybe the Opapalu and Menpachi are gone for good.
I didn’t know how special it all was then; I do now. Thanks, Grandma!