As a young kid, I was the tenacious and sticky appendage of my grandfather, Lolo Jesse (Grandpa Jesse). I would go wherever he goes, like a sweeping tail being dragged everywhere by the animal. If he goes jogging in the morning, I am seen running next to him. If he brings the dog out for a walk, I make sure I hold the leash too. If he decides to watch his favorite Sunday baseball games in Rizal Park, I am seen sitting next to him, busying myself eating hotdogs just to make sure I don’t fall asleep from sheer boredom. If he plans to travel up north to Pangasinan, I make sure to pack my things quickly and squeeze myself at the back of the car to send the signal that says ‘I got here first; no way you’re leaving without me.’
Of course, my grandfather welcomed my company, while he was the center of my world, I was his self-declared pet. We adored each other so much that we even wear the same clothes! He would ask the tailor to sew a pair of short trousers for me to match with his, while his dressmaker would make me matching blouses from left-over fabric of his polo shirts.
My constant presence in his every day (and ever where) life brought me to places kids weren’t even suppose to go. At 7 years old, I got comfortable sitting at the back of a police mobile (my grandfather was a mobile patrolman), I visited detention facilities and saw shady characters inside cells, I got friendly with loveable canine units, I attended legal court hearings scenes, entered dark and dusty cellars of old provincial municipal halls and other places I will not dare go to presently.
Our trips led me one day to Lingayen. Lingayen is fishing town in the province of Pangasinan where my grandmother was pursuing a civil case about land acquisition. My grandpa, grandma, a cousin and I traveled all the way from Manila and reached our host’s place in Lingayen at high noon. We had to park our car half a mile away because the road stops there to welcome vast and sprawling webs of fishponds ahead. One needs to travel on foot to reach our host’s residence.
Of course we were offered boiled and broiled deep-sea fishes and oysters for lunch, because our host’s house, a dainty provincial ‘nipa’ (grass) hut stands in the middle of fishponds with the spreading shores of Lingayen Gulf to the west. And, needless to say, seafoods abound in their area.
At high noon, my cousin, along with my grandparents were wolfing down countless pieces of raw oysters dipped in vinegar. The kid that I was, I preferred to eat my packed fried chicken lunch and did not bother with the food on the table. It turned out that choosing to eat the friend chicken was a wiser move for me as it absolved me from the unexpected incident that was to occur later on.
At mid-noon, the commotion began. I saw my cousin lying on the bed, covered with thick layers of blanket, perspiring heavily and delirious from high fever and stomach ache. I don’t remember if I saw her spit something at all, but the scenario when I saw my middle-aged cousin shaking from convulsions was enough to scare the daylights out of me.
I heard my grandmother say “Oysters are quite sensitive to empty stomachs, I warned you to gulp a spoonful of sugar after eating to brush-off a possible food poisoning.” It was a sentence aimed at my cousin. The words of the wise. My grandfather on the other hand, made my cousin lie on a small, make-shift bamboo bed and carried her half a mile to the car to be brought for hospital care. I did not enjoy the rest of my vacation because my grandparents were busy attending both to the court case and to our hospital patient simultaneously the whole time.
That was the beginning and the end of oysters’ adventure for me. I neither touched oysters nor tasted them after that particular event. Oysters sort of became a bad news for me; a synonym for food poisoning and an equal word for ‘death wish’. I have spent too many summers and rainy days of my life with a lot of chances to try oysters, but that incident many years ago continued to sting my memory, rendering me hands-off to oysters and its relatives. I dreaded them so much that I forbade my mother from ever serving them on our table. I never bothered to know if it was indeed the oysters that caused my cousin’s illness. Until today, I was too afraid to try them myself and prove the poor oysters’ innocence.
Right, you read correctly, I said ‘until today’.
Today, I ate oysters.
I don’t know what hand of God convinced me to try the oysters and momentarily forget the anxiety I openly harbored for these perilous (?) mollusks. Maybe because I saw where the oysters are being farmed? Or maybe out of sheer curiosity? Or have I finally outgrown my fear?
One of my food undertakings brought me to Kuya Johnnie’s Dagupan fishing farms. While I was gathering information about my torta cangrejo blog article, Kuya Johnnie allowed me to photograph his craft and showed me how he farms oysters too. He and his sons would hang 1-inch wide 15-inches long flat rubber strands on labyrinthine structures of bamboo frames submerged in water. The oysters will attach themselves, allow themselves to multiply and grow on those flat rubber strands. Kuya Johnnie and his sons will harvest them as soon as they are big enough to be served.
I came back home carrying a small bag of oysters, free and courtesy of my gracious host of course. With no idea how to shell and cook them, Kuya Johnnie extended his heartiness some more and volunteered to cook the oysters for me and my mother. Since he is aware of my fright about eating them raw, he concluded that an Oysters Pancake would be safest for me to try.
The omelet came out not only perfectly, but also deliciously.
What’s more? I survived the oyster-scare!
And mostly, even a kid who’s old enough to do pancakes won’t have trouble making this simple oyster pancake recipe. Now I have found a way to cook oysters safer, safe even for my little boy to enjoy. Thank you Kuya Johnnie for the wonderful oysters pancake treat!
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