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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Calamari and Me

Tonight I am rather exasperated and my heart is decaying for lack of company. I’ve been on my own for nine days while my wife and wonderful child are in Ozzie lappng up the sunshine and all the other glorious gems in that great big red treasure chest.

Here I am in cold but beautiful New Zealand, alone in am empty house that is so quiet I can hear my fingers banging away on the keyboard like they were angry chickens who had just walked into a KFC and seen what was on the menu…

Because I am in this despondent mood I would like to talk about something that brings me much happiness. Something other than my wife and wonderful child because although they make me happy, their absence and the steady reminder of it makes me sad and leads me to iniquitous thoughts of eating more of those “hundreds and thousands cookies” I found in the pantry or the box of Cadbury chocolates that doesn’t belong to me…. Nope, I must harmonize my thoughts to brighter and nobler affections - such as Calamari.

I love Calamari. Squid makes my blood thinner and my head dizzy just thinking of dipping it on a fresh bowl of thousand island dressing and planting it firmly in the soil of my lips so that a smile may grow therein…

When I was a child, growing up in the small community of Maraetai Beach, a lovely place full of hardly anybody, there was the occasion where mom would say “we’re having fish and chips tonight” and we would cry “yippee” and “choice!” Because getting take aways was a big event not dissimilar to Christmas Eve or wagging school. I would be given a small fortune, an entire $5 note bearing the queens lovely smile that said, “Go get em young man” and her advice would carry me down the hill to the shop by the beach where this mega amount of cash would get me a parcel made of actual news paper covered in real ink that told stories that no one cared about any more; stories that willingly forwent their lives for the sake of my Friday night meal.

Mmmmmmm

And as the rest of my family sunk their slippery fingers into the mess of chips, battered sausages (we call those hot dogs in NZ) on a stick, or deep fried Pineapple fritters laced with sugar and cinnamon like they were donuts with a soul made of fruit, or the crumbly snapper or whatever their personal request from the take away man may have been – I had my squid rings, my lovely chewy fat filled squid circles that I ate slowly, proudly and delectably.

There is something sacred about a ring. Tolkien knew it and published a whole anthology about a magic one that almost brought an end to a world that never was. People have used the ring as a symbol of eternity to seal their marriage vows and the fish and chip industry has set in the stone of my heart the sacred squid ring to remind me that so far as sea food is concerned I am married to the squid.

And so were the first 19 years of my life, when asked, “Do you like sea food?” I would answer, “No, I hate it… except for… Squid rings….” While licking my quivering lips.

But I was in for a rude awakening. One that would rock the foundations of my culinary empire that up until this time had no natural disaster or calamity besiege my tongue strong enough to shatter my illusion that when it came to squid I knew what I was talking about…

I moved to Australia.

I can not remember the exact location of this fish and chippery except that it was in Melbourne, near a beach somewhere. I was only 19 when my taste buds bowed down to something they were not expecting…

I looked at the menu and could not see Squid Rings but rather something else, C-a-l-a-m-a-r-i… which I vaguely understood to be squid related but under a more cultured guise, which I was not prepared to discover in this land of Australians (sorry I couldn’t resist making an Aussie joke…) so I orderd it…

What I got was a box which contained two slices of lemon and these very large circular things that looked like Squid Rings except they were some how larger and more tyre like. I squeezed the lemon juice over the fare, more out of curiosity than anything else and tentatively proceeded with the eating of the C-a-l-a-m-a-r-i..

My eyes went wide when I realized that something wonderful was happening. It was like the fourth of July on the tip of my tongue, like every 5th of November took place inside my mouth and any false idea I had beheld about what made a jolly good squid ring was shattered. I was caught in a mixture of anger and ecstasy, like someone had thrust me in a machine that squashes strawberries and mixes them with frozen yogurt, painful and yet incredibly delicious….

The thing I realized there and then was this – the Aussies beat the kiwis hands down in the match for who knows how to prepare Calamari.

And so it was on that day in 1999 that I was converted and became a follower, a loyal disciple of the Australian TakeAway shop.

The shocking truth is that here in NZ your average local fish and chippy place has no clue when it comes to preparing Calamari… but even more appalling is that I’m not sure they even know what calamari even is! That’s right, the thing I had been wolfing down my whole young life pre take out conversion was not Calamari at all but rather some kind of fish paste or reclaimed meat of some description, squeezed into circlets, deep fried and passed off as squid, whereas in Australia at least what you are getting was caught, killed and cooked – simple as that! Between Byron Bay's tea room, that served a sweet chilli calamari salad that likens the dining experience to your first kiss and Alaxandra Heads own Mandolin Seafoods that thinks outside the box and serves its Loligo opalescens in finger shaped cuts that make you want to cut your own fingers off and replace them with what you are eating,you can find a myriad of take out joints all ready to rain their delights upon your plate...

But not here I'm afraid.

In the odd chance that I actually have some fellow Aucklanders reading this and you happen to know where I can get real tentacle meat then please pleasure me with you’re your comments, because I am yet to find such a place…

Its sad that we live in such a ridiculously beautiful country as New Zealand with all its native wonders; rolling green hills and sheep and flightless birds and hot mud pools and richer that Aaustralian culture and yet we can’t get our Calamari right! It’s a travesty, pure and simple!

When I was in the Sunshine Coast a few weeks ago I made sure I downed a bucket load of the stuff in an effort to savour the flavour and cherish the memory of that great white rubbery meat of the sea….

Which brings me back to where I started, darn it! The best Calamari is in Australia, along with my wife and my wonderful child and I am here in this miserable lonely house with its pink icing cookies and my xBox begging me to stay up until 2 a.m.

At least I can console myself with this truth … we still make a darn good steak and mushroom pie!

3 comments:

  1. My ex-mother-in-law, who happened to have schizophrenia, truly believed that the Olive Garden restaurant served 'human being meat', aka calamari. So everytime I eat it I think of it as people, and people taste pretty good it turns out.

    BTW, this is great. It'll be in the next edition of the CNL Blog Carnival.

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  2. Sweet, thanks Jaime! Glad you enjoyed it :)

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  3. I'm always up till 2am dude - shame we can't X-Box game online :(

    I too am a calamari aficionado, but I doubt I am such a connoisseur as you :)

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