7.04.2013

So last night, I went to a fish parlor

In a city like Houston, one need not go far to get a taste of Africa.  There are plenty of African restaurants, and apparently, "fish parlors."

Let me begin by explaining that there's a woman here in Houston - who lives not far from me - whose fish is nothing short of legend.  People all the way in San Antonio recommend her all the time.  I was also informed her husband makes the best suya, or African shish-kebab.  Members and friends of my family learned long ago to that if the Moms is ever angry with you, buy her one fish from this woman and she will be appeased for weeks.

So my Auntie, Uncle, and two cousins came to stay with us for a couple of days, and on Day 2, they got a craving for fish and wanted to go to a fish parlor.  We ended up going to the aforementioned woman's place, but by the time I connected the dots, it was too late.

My Auntie was expecting a fish parlor - as in restaurant, with tables, chairs, wait staff, a cashier, and so on.  Had I known we were going to get fish from this particular fishwife, I would've given my Auntie the heads up that this woman operates out of her house (which up until now, I'd never been to).

*sigh*

Now...before I continue describing our little adventure, I need to share one tiny observation.  You can take my dear fellow Cameroonians out of the village (not the city, not the town - the village) and put them in a middle-class home in America...and they will still find a way to remake their home in the image of the village.

When we arrived at the house, which required some creative parking, there were men sitting the open garage beneath flourescent lights and in front of a rickety old metal fan.  They were drinking Guinness and Heineken and conversing in Pidgin.  Upon seeing us, they politely confirmed we'd come the right place, and that we should go into the house to speak with the proprietor.  Already I could smell the smoke and cooking oil.  The kitchen had two rooms; there was an extension just for roasting fish.  The condition of the ceiling implied there had been a few cooking fires over the years, and as for the oil...not a single wall or doorway in the kitchen (or living room) had been spared the smear of oil.  The fishwife herself was away, but her husband was still in the kitchen, doing business as usual.  He and my Uncle spoke only French and Pidgin to each other.

My Uncle was into it; after all, we were getting an authentic taste of home. Auntie, however, was skeptical and having a WTF moment as to why these people had set up - essentially - a fish joint in their home, literally in their living room ("...in e house?").  There was one large table with six chairs and a plastic checkered tablecloth.  Out on the patio there was yet another group of men drinking Guinness and laughing. In the back, I could hear the proprietor's kids. Occasionally, I saw a daughter or two, but mostly they knew to stay out of sight.  In the background, on a giant flat screen, Cameroonian music videos from 1980s played.  That's when I began to wonder if the "ambience" was deliberate, to give these homesick patrons a genuine feel of Cameroon.

Then the drinks came - Fanta, Guinness, Pina Colada wine cooler - followed by this parlor's version of suya, which my Auntie adamantly insisted was not real suya (she almost stopped me from taking a picture when she learned I was going to write this).  It was missing the ground peanuts, the bread crumbs, and the trademark skewers  (we had to use toothpicks).  Nevertheless, it was some tasty, succulent roasted meat lightly dusted with ginger powder which really hit the spot, especially when washed down with a cold bottle of Fanta.

Faux Suya

Shortly before the fish arrived, my Uncle's friend showed up and there was that familiar raucous laughing, nickname-calling, and vigorous hand-shaking as we were all introduced.  My Uncle's friend was an older man, divorced, talking (in Pidgin) about how he hadn't seen his kids since they returned from Cameroon, but his ex-wife was making sure to keep taking the child support from his check.  He then recounted his journey to a redneck town in Somewhere, Texas, where he and two others were the first Black non-Americans to step foot in the town.  He complained about how there was only a Walmart, no HEB, and how "one plantain - just one plaintain! - ...eighty-nine cents."  And when I thought this couldn't getting any more amusing, the man started talking about the townspeople themselves and how "dey di chew tobacco, dey di drive diesel truck...."

Tilapia to the left, and Drum (the Moms' favorite)
to the right

Drum fish and fried plantains
The fish finally arrived and since I don't eat seafood, I moved so my Uncle would be near his friend.  As folks started demolishing the fish and the fried, sweet plantains, we all fell to our separate conversations.  Every so often, of course, someone would say something which drew my attention right back.

"...no be na swinga's club?" (That's my Uncle for you).

After the to-go packages started to make their rounds, the focus shifted to the videos, as folks began to sing along, dance along, and reminisce.  My Auntie's demeanor seemed to have changed, even though she didn't think the fish lived up to the legend.  Nevertheless, she enjoyed the trip down memory lane with the videos, commenting in particular about the clothes.  My 21-year-old cousin, one of the tallest, darkest beauties in my family, kept pointing out the "video girls" and whenever she used that term we both burst out laughing.

This morning, before I left for work, I got my Auntie regaling our little adventure to the Moms.  I asked if my Auntie remembered to tell the part about the look on her face when we came to the "parlor."

Auntie:  I thought we were going to a nice, glamorous place --

Moms:  *blink*  For where?

~ The End ~

12 comments:

  1. And now I'm hungry.

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    Replies
    1. Me too and I don't even eat meat.

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    2. Likewise. This looks tasty.

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    3. Y'all that beef was good. I've thought about it every day since.

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  2. A reminder of street food in general. Damn I miss it like crazy ='|

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  3. Alex RaventhorneJuly 5, 2013 at 4:30 PM

    I made beef suya last Sat on my teppanyaki grill, and made chicken wings suya yesterday in the oven :). Ankhesen Mie, I love your mother's comment "For where?"! I thought it was only Nigerians who used that phrase.

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  4. Haha, your experience reminds me a lot of my Nigerian family as well. Sounds really good, now that I'm back in Houston I'd like to try. *_*

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  5. I also always wondered why people would set up businesses in their homes.
    I asked my former hairdresser and she said it's cheaper and most don't pay taxes since they work au noir.
    I couldn't do it, i just wouldn't feel comfortable having strangers in my home.

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    Replies
    1. Amen. Those poor kids couldn't come out of their rooms.

      And what are the business hours? There was no sign. How do people know when NOT to show up?

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