Filipinas nearly universally love dried fish. Their foreign husbands universally hate it. The smell of cooking dried fish is worse than that rodent that died under the hood of my car decades ago, and since in those days I never popped the hood until the oil light came on, I didn’t discover it until the stench was so great I nearly passed out driving.
The smell of cooking dried fish is worse than that rodent that died under the hood of my car decades ago…
I asked Janet why dried fish smells the way it does. “They dry it in the hot sun.” And probably don’t bring it in from the hot sun until it’s turned to leather, I thought. OK, so now I understand why it stinks though not why Filipinos dry it that way.
Even more interesting to me is Filipinas husbands’ hatred of the dried stuff. Every culture has stinky and disgusting foods. Certainly the origins of haggis are far more nauseating than dried fish. Kimchee brings me near to barfing. Among many stinky cheeses, the king is Limburger, a cheese which only Curly of the Three Stooges could love. From my own culture, there’s gefilte fish, which I love though it’s basically made from the cheapest, nastiest fish that can be obtained.
Let’s not even talk about liver, a stomach churner when cooking if ever there was one. Yet my mother made chopped chicken liver on holidays and I could consume any given quantity spread on crackers, as if it were candy.
In fact, dried fish is not even the worst smelling food in the Philippines. First there’s durian, the only food illegal to transport in some Southeast Asian countries due to it’s odor; a fresh fruit, not fermented or dried, durian’s stench is such that it can hit me in a large market hundreds of feet away and knock me flat. I’ve tried it and all I can say is that it does taste better than it smells, but so probably did that dead rodent in my engine compartment.
Then there’s balut, considered a delicacy in the Philippines. A duck embryo, it’s boiled alive and eaten in the shell. Yum. I don’t know how it smells since I’ve never gotten close enough to find out – and I’m keeping it that way.
So really, dried fish has a long way to go in the disgusting department. Yet the guys always are repulsed. I know many who won’t let their wives cook it even if they aren’t around. Two of my friends decided they would be men about it; meaning problem solvers. Like me, they’re engineers (of sorts) so I’d expect nothing less. They bought their wives electric frying pans, so the wives could cook their dried fish outside. They figured if the women want the dried fish badly enough, cooking out on the porch in zero degree winter weather is a small price to pay. I questioned the knight-like qualities of one of the princely husbands, who said, “I told her when we married that there would be no dried fish cooked in the house. Hey, I bought the electric frying pan, didn’t I?” Good point; perhaps I’m being too hard on my friends.
Janet understands our Westerner view of dried fish and tries to accommodate me. She opens the windows and doors and turns on the kitchen fan when she cooks her fave dried fish, to no avail. My teenage kids complain. “Go play in the backyard if it bothers you,” I tell them, knowing that as modern teenagers they haven’t played in the backyard since the Bush administration.
As a fish lover, I’ve tasted dried fish and it’s not as terrible as it smells. So really, I don’t mind too much when Janet wants to cook it. I’m only appalled when Filipinas eat it for breakfast. How, I wonder, can you possibly start the day with such a stink. On the other hand, Filipinas consume pork for breakfast, hot dogs, and spam, so dried fish isn’t too far of a reach.
I had figured my friends as unusually tough on their wives until we returned to Alcoy this spring. I rented a small apartment from a German man. He’d built two apartments behind his very nice home. And at 500 pesos/night ($12) the price was certainly right. But upon entering the apartment’s kitchen, the sign said it all…”Sorry, we cannot allow cooking Dried fish!”
Apparently, I’m a bit of a pansy when it comes to the dried fish issue.