How to Get Rid of the Fish bone in My Throat 魚刺哽喉怎麼辦

 

 

 

 

 

My father was born in a village on an island, which faces another small island, Taiwan, to the east across a 110-mile wide of ocean named Taiwan Strait. The gap, a small distance like two-hour drive between LA and San Diego, kept my father away from his hometown for more than 40 years. While raising a family in Taiwan, he rarely talked about his past; and we children didn’t learn to ask. Some information was revealed while our family had fish for meals. He mentioned that his family fished for a living. Thus they never had a meal without fish. It explained why we too, had fish every day.   

My father, not my mother, was in charge of grocery shopping. Early in the morning, he rode his bicycle to the street market, walking through the dark, narrow alleys tucked between small wooden houses. Under tin roof and dim lights, the market was crowded with shoppers nudging their shoulders and yelling to the vendors who were busy in explaining, measuring, receiving, and changing money. For decades, my father was one of the rare male shoppers in the market. He came home with vegetables, meat, and of course, fish. They were tied in bunches with long straws and dangled on the handles of his bike. After passing the groceries to my mother, he headed to work. I heard the mamas of Taiwanese neighbor commented admiringly to my mother, “Only a husband who is from the mainland could be so considerate and helpful!” I found out that my mother felt this comment embarrassing, “He has to do it because I am so bad at buying groceries!” Her tone was somehow self-degrading.

I liked to watch Mom clean up fish. She cut open its belly, pulled out some stuff that’s dark red, mushy, and slimy. Then she opened the fish cheek and drew out a soft, fan-like thing. She told me that they are intestine, liver, stomach, and gill. The worst task was scaling, which she forced the knife against the direction the scales covered the skin and scraped them out. It made a mess while the scales flew around. If they stuck on your skin, an ugly wart would form later, and to get rid of it required a self-induced surgery that the razor would give you lots of pain and blood. I went through the agony before, so I stepped away when mom fearlessly fought with the scaling. One thing she emphasized specifically was the gallbladder. ”If you don’t get rid of it totally, the bitterness would ruin the whole fish!” She warned. After the cleaning, she slashed the meat diagonally two times on a whole fish and made it three equal parts. She sprayed some salt on it before cooking.  

Most of the fish were simply fried with oil. Mom first sauteed ginger in vegetable oil. When the oil started to burn, she put in the fish. The wok sizzled immediately and soon smoke with a fishy aroma filled the kitchen. Mom turned the wok this and that way to make sure all sides were cooked; then she flipped the fish. Sometimes the skin would be stuck to the pan, and it required careful scratching and repairing to keep the fish a whole. The fried fish was crunchy on the skin and juicy inside.

Mom also made the fish in sweet and sour sauce. After she fried the fish, some water, soy sauce, salt, vinegar, and sugar were put into the wok. She then covered the lid and cooked it with low heat until the sauce became thicken. When we had guests, Mom liked to cook fish this way. The strong flavor of sweet and sour overcome the taste of fish, but it always boosted everybody’s appetite. I learned that when the fish smells too “fishy,” this is the best way to cook it.   

My father made a unique fish dish. The fish had to be the kinds of swordfish or tuna that have no small bones. After he sauteed it, he carefully picked out all bones. Then he added oil, salt, soy sauce, and some sugar to the fish. With slow heat, he pressed the meat to open with a spatula and kept breaking and smashing it in the pan. Eventually, the meat was ground into tiny pieces and turned brown. He continued stirring it until it was dry. By his choice, sometimes he made it crunchy, sometimes more soft. We called the dish 魚鬆 in Chinese, or “shredded fish” in English. The dried shredded fish could be stored in the jar for many days’ of use, but most of the time we finished it right away. It goes with steamed rice or congee perfectly. Our home-made fish dish later became a popular canned food item in the grocery stores.

My parents also made many kinds of fish soups. The most memorable one for me was the fish that’s hard to deal with. It was milkfish (虱目鱼), which hide tons of small bones in its meat, but its soup was delightedly flavorful. Mom chopped the fish into three or four pieces, and sauteed it with a little oil and ginger, then boil it in water. The fish with shiny silver skin floating in the clear water made the soup looked like a nice pond. The spicy ginger enriched the soup’s oceanic flavor. However, this fish often became the nightmare of the children for its hostile thin and lengthy bones. The only friendly part of the fish is its long strip of belly fat. My parents always saved this part for us. The younger you were, the more you could get. My young siblings also enjoyed the clean fish meat after my parents picked all the bones out for them.

Our daily consumption of fish created more chances to swallow bones by accident. I experienced that horrible and painful incident several times. When it happened, my father performed a ritual to save us. When someone cried in terror, first, he calmly picked a big chunk of rice with the chopstick, then he topped it with a big piece of fish meat; (The fish had to be scanned carefully and made sure it was bone free.) Next, he drew the chopstick in the circle on top of his bowl, three times clockwise, then another three times counterclockwise. Sometimes he quietly murmured something. Finally, he stuffed the rice and fish into the sufferer’s mouth and ordered, “Swallow it all at once!” The sufferer forcefully took a swallow, followed by a big cup of water my mom handed over. The ritual always worked magically. “Why does it work?” We children wanted the answer. “Because it always worked for me when I was a kid.” He said proudly.

The character “fish” in Chinese has the same pronunciation of the character “surplus.” People say “年年有魚 ” as the New Year greeting. While it means there will be surplus every year, it also sounds like there will be fish every year. My parents followed the tradition; they would deep fry a big fish until it turned hard and brown. On the day of New Year’s Eve, we held a ceremony to memorize our ancestors. The oval-shaped plate that held a wholesome fish was within many other dishes displayed on the table as the offerings. We believed the fish would bring us a year of prosperity.

Like people in the old generation, my father was not used to publicly express his feelings — particularly when he was homesick. Expressing the homesickness could cause big troubles in the era that censored and diminished any possible “spies” of Communist China. He may miss his family and hometown deeply, and eating fish might be an efficient remedy for lessening his homesickness. In memory of the fish dishes, my homesickness is connected to his history. However, his past was mostly unknown. For this, I have great regret.  

我的父親出生在一個小島上,它隔著175公里的台灣海峽,與另外一個小島 -台灣 – 遙遙相望。這個隔距,大約相當於台北到台中,而開車只須兩小時的時間。這樣短小的距離,卻成為我父親四十年無法回到家鄉的鴻溝。他在台灣成家立業,卻極少談起過往,我們孩子們也沒學會發問。有一些知識,都是在我們吃飯的時候得到的。他提往事起來,說他們家是捕魚為生,所以飯桌上永遠都有魚擺著。這也解釋了為何我們家也是天天吃魚的來源了。

我們家是爸爸專門負責買菜的。每天一大早,他就騎著自行車,去到菜市場。在幽暗窄小,點著明燈,藏在矮木屋的巷道裡,摩肩接踵的顧客們挑三揀四,對忙著算帳找錢的菜販吼叫著,要這要那。數十年如一日,我爸爸是這群婆婆媽媽中極少見的男性主顧。他回家的時候,單車把手上掛著用草繩綁著的當日新鮮的青菜,肉類,當然還有少不了的魚。把他們交給媽媽之後,他就去上班了。我鄰居那些台灣媽媽們喜歡評論,她們說:「只有外省先生才會這麼體貼,幫太太做事!」我媽媽總對這個評語感到不好意思,她回說:「因為我不會買菜,所以他不得不做呀。」她的口氣聽來有點自貶。

我喜歡看媽媽清理魚。她一刀把魚肚皮剖開,拉出裡面深紅色,棕色,黏黏軟軟的東西。她告訴我說那些是腸子,肚子,肝,心,肺等等。她再把魚頰打開,又扯出了一種刺刺的,扇形的東西,她說那是魚鰓,魚呼吸的器官。最惱人的工作是刮魚鱗,她用刀子往魚鱗長出來的反方向去刮,鱗片就四處紛飛。這時,我得要躲遠些,因為我們都相信,被鱗片黏上的皮膚,會長出肉瘤。這肉瘤可難看了,要把它除掉,我們都學會自我開刀,刀片可送上很多疼痛和血跡。我經歷過幾次這種痛苦的經驗,所以躲得遠遠的,讓勇敢的媽媽獨自與固執的鱗片奮鬥。有個器官她特別給叮嚀。她說,”要把魚膽完全除掉,不然那苦味會毀了整條魚!” 洗淨了魚,她在魚身上劃上兩刀,分出三等份的魚肉,之後她就撒些鹽巴在上面,醃了等著烹煮。

最簡單的做法就是乾煎。媽媽把薑片放進蔬菜油裡煎炸,待油熱了,就把魚放下鍋。霎時油煙四起,廚房魚香滿溢。媽媽把鍋子左轉右轉,讓魚身都過到油,煎了透。再來她就把魚翻個面,這時要小心翼翼,避免魚皮沾鍋,若魚肉散了,也要把它修整一番,才能在乘上盤子時保持全身完整。這種乾煎法烹調出的魚,外皮酥香,而裡肉多汁。

媽媽也常做糖醋魚。把魚煎過後,便加上水,醬油,鹽糖和醋,用小火把醬汁煮到濃稠。家裡有客人時,她喜歡做這道魚請客。口味很重的酸甜味把魚味給遮蓋過了,但是卻是一道很可口下飯,刺激胃口的菜肴。我也學到了,對腥味太重的魚,糖醋是最適合的烹煮法。

我爸爸有一道他獨家的作法。這道菜須要選用旗魚或鮪魚這種不含細骨的魚來做。他把魚煎過了後,就把骨頭仔細挑乾淨。之後他放進油,醬油,一點糖,就把魚肉用炒菜鏟子不斷地分開壓碎,一直把魚肉又揉又炒,到鬆散而乾酥的地步。他有時候選擇做得乾硬些,有時候較濕軟,口味不同。做好了,可以把它收藏到罐子裡,慢慢地吃幾天,但是我們通常都馬上把它一掃而光。這道菜叫做魚鬆,配白飯,稀飯吃最適合。我們的這道家常菜,後來成為市場裡很受歡迎的罐頭食品。

爸媽也常常做魚湯。我記得的最深刻的,是一種吃起來很難應付的魚湯 – 虱目魚湯。那魚滿身藏著細刺,煮出來的湯卻是滋潤甜美。媽媽把魚剁成三、四塊,再用薑片在少許的油裡爆香,放入魚,加上水,接著等水煮沸了,魚也熟了。那銀亮的皮膚在清澈的湯裡閃爍,這湯看起來就像一塘清淨的池子。辛辣的薑片更讓海水味濃的湯水益加甜美。但是,這魚卻常為我們孩子帶來噩夢,因為它的刺太多了!唯一還友善的部份是它長長肚子的那條魚油,柔軟滑嫩又滋味濃稠,爸媽常把那部份留給孩子們,年紀越小,得吃的機會越多。爸媽也總為小弟妹們把骨刺全挑出來,讓他們安心無慮地把魚吃下肚去。

我們天天吃魚,把魚刺誤吞下喉的機會也特別高。我也不幸地遭遇過幾次這事故,那可真的是痛苦又可怕。爸爸有方法對付這緊急事故,他鎮定地用筷子挑起一團飯,上面加上一塊他仔細檢查過沒刺的魚肉。然後他把筷子在碗上面左轉三圈,又右轉三圈,有時候口裡念念有辭。之後,他把魚飯糰放入受難者的嘴裡,下命令道:「大口吞下去!」囫圇一吞,再加上媽媽遞來的一大杯水,有如魔法般,魚刺真的不見了。「怎麼這麼靈驗?」我們很好奇地問。「怎麼不靈驗?,我小時後一有魚骨骾喉,就是這麼治好的!」

中文字的「魚」和「餘」– 剩餘 — 是同聲的,所以新年春節我們都說「年年有魚(餘)」,祝福大家年年萬事不缺,剩有餘錢。為了討吉利,我們家也遵循傳統,在供桌上擺上一個橢圓盤,上面躺著一條大魚,供奉祖先神明,為新年討好彩頭。吃了魚,我們對未來一年的豐足充滿了信心。

我父親就像老一輩的人,極不善於表達自己的感情,比如思鄉這樣的情緒。但是表白思鄉的心情在當時那種積極審查,消滅「匪諜」的時代,應該是會給自己找來禍害的。他可能非常想念他的家鄉,而日日食魚可能是減少他思鄉病的有效藥物吧!當我在此懷念這些魚食的時候,我自己的鄉情和他的歷史連結了起來。只是,對於他的過去,我知道得太少了!為此,我深深感到遺憾!

 

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