Monday, March 7, 2011

Fresh food people

As a child, one of my favourite pastimes when visiting my grandparents in Pakistan was shopping. Of course, I loved shopping for the obvious 'girly' reasons - new clothes, new shoes, new jewellery... but apart from that, I loved to go grocery shopping too. Being used to mundane supermarket shopping in Australia, my five senses were utilized to their full potential in the markets of Karachi. At the utility store, my grandmother would buy all her spices, pulses and grains in bulk and speak to me about their different qualities and uses. And, at the markets, I would listen to my grandfather explain the difference between the dozen varieties of mangoes that were on offer (I have already written at length about my family's fascination with mangoes). We would smell our way through the market stalls before we decided on that one, premium, aromatic crate.

But, my market experiences weren't all good. Buying meat was one kind of shopping that I did my best to avoid. In those days, chickens would be slaughtered at roadside stalls and the task of selecting one chicken, to be plucked, skinned and beheaded right before my very eyes would render me almost unconscious. It would get worse when the chopped chicken would be handed over in a bag, still warm from its final heart beat. The very process revolted me. I could not touch that night's chicken biryani let alone any meat for weeks afterwards.

Those childhood memories have been flooding back to me these days. Whilst I usually shop for produce at the supermarket in Bahrain, when it's a pleasant 25oC outside, I cannot resist getting out and about to the various roadside fruit and vegetable stalls around our neighbourhood. Most of the fruit and veg stalls stock run of the mill varieties of carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes and apples but then they also have exotic vegetables in stock, some of which I don't even recognise let alone know how to cook.

And then there is the fisherman's stall that takes me back to those quease-inducing meat shopping days. M is a fan of fish, but only if it is fresh (me, not so much). He is convinced that this stall is as fresh as we can get (and even I have to admit that it's good). The fisherman turns up at the same spot every day with his many catches of the day, stored in a row of Eskies. Once you make a selection from a variety of local fish, you stand and wait whilst the fish is cleaned/gutted/de-boned/filleted to your liking. The stall is by no means hygienic looking and when you hand your cash over and wait for your change, you're not sure you really want it as the shopkeeper passes you a fishy five hundred fils note. You then bring the fish home and hope that cooking it at a high temperature will eradicate any possibility of food poisoning. I can happily report that there haven't been any issues to date.

Below, the fish filleter doing his thing:

Below, a basket of crabs at the fish stall.


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