Fear of Fish Eyeballs

B hated cilantro. His whole family detested it. We could never quite decide if it was nature or nurture. Someone once told me it takes about fifteen tastes before you become acclimated to a new food. I suspect that it is not simply a matter of our tastebuds, but also a matter of overcoming a mental mindset about what something is going to be like and actually learning to experience it for it’s self. I wonder how many tries relationships take….

One thing I am is fearless when it comes to food. I am like a kitchen samurai, rock-steady in the face of the unknown. I have palette balls. I will try just about anything once. I’ll try it twice if I don’t throw up the first time and I’ll even give it a third try if there is no gag reaction at all. I wish I had that kind of tenacity for the rest of my life.

Many non-koreans hate Kim Chee. I adore it. I love the smell. I love the flavor. I love all varieties. I grew up with a Korean woman, Kim, who feeds me. My entire memories of Kim from childhood until present are permiated with grilled meat, Kim Chee and some sort of gelatinous fish dishes. Some years ago, when she was getting on in age (she still is), I went with my family to help her out when a tree fell in her yard.

“Kaaireee,” she called out to me, “you com-a in heeer. I mak-a you shom Kim Chee. Eat.” She has been in the US for longer than I have been alive and I have known her all my life, but every once in a while she says something a little too fast and I miss it. On this particular day, I swear on all that I love, she said, “I mak-a fo you speschial. Witsh little fish-a eyeball. Salty.”

Was I excited about fish eyeballs? No. Did I eat the Kim Chee? Yes.

Why do we become afraid of things we know won’t really hurt us? Just because it’s unpleasant? I suspect so. It becomes so engrained in us, this fear, that we begin to claim it as part of our being. I’ve done it many times, my friend has, JJ has, B defined himself as not liking Cilantro. I was riding in the car the other day with my friend S and she talked about wanting to get a dog. She is scared shitless of dogs. Like her, I would prefer to define myself as what I have over come not what I have lived in fear of.

The last time Kim and I talked she complained about her ex-boyfriend. He was 69, she is 78. “I don yike deese old guys, you know. Acchhh. All dey wan do all day is sit on the couch. Watch TV. De don’t wan-a go with me dancing. Think de get hurt or shumshing. I wan-a go danshing, you know.”

“Boy, do I know…” I said through a mouthful of Kim Chee.


Shogun.  Not Korean, but I will forgive him for that. I love this book. Make time if you intend to read it because you will become lost in James Clavell’s mysterious and exotic world. There is almost an entire chapter in this book dedicated to shrimp. Time seems to slow down for our heroes on their way to battle so they can enjoy this last, lucious meal. Read it ravenously.

Kim Chee and Shrimp Fried Rice (GF) (from Chow.com)

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 8 ounces medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/4 cups Napa Cabbage Kimchi, drained and coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Korean chile paste
  • 4 cups steamed white or brown rice, chilled
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice, plus more as needed
  • 1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 2 medium scallions, minced (white and light green parts only)
  • 1 medium lime, cut into 6 wedges, for serving
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick frying pan or wok over medium-high heat until shimmering. Meanwhile, pat the shrimp dry with paper towels. Add the shrimp to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until pink and just cooked through, about 2 minutes. Remove to a plate; set aside.
  2. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan and heat until shimmering. Add the kimchi and chile paste and stir-fry until fragrant and heated through, about 1 minute. Add the rice, fish sauce, and soy sauce and season with salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is heated through, about 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Push the rice mixture to one side of the pan, add the eggs, and cook, stirring occasionally with a rubber spatula, until almost set, about 2 minutes. Season the eggs with salt and pepper. Remove the pan from heat, fold the eggs into the rice mixture, add the reserved shrimp, measured lime juice, and sesame oil, and stir to combine. Taste and season with more salt and lime juice as needed. Sprinkle with the scallions and serve immediately with the lime wedges.

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