Food Memories: on blue crabs and Sunday lunches

I went to the wet market early this morning. It’s a stone’s throw away from our apartment. I always tell myself I should shop there more often. It’s just I feel anxious with the whole process of buying individual items, weighing them down by the grams, and, more often than not, not having any idea how the vendor came up with the correct price exactly. I’m not the sharpest at weighing scales.

Anyway, today, I braved the wet market and checked for fresh seafood. Lo and behold I found these blue crabs, the bulk of them waving at me. They cost about 300 per kilo, which is not bad at all. Since Jed is not at home at the moment, I took the liberty to indulge in my favorite seafood. Not that I needed any more excuse whatsoever.

I immediately bought the main ingredient for its broth: freshly grated, freshly squeezed coconut milk. I also bought half a yellow squash and a bundle of lemongrass. With some garlic, onions, and ginger back home, I was all set.

It took me awhile to finally learn how to cook this dish. I always ask my late father to cook it for me whenever I’m home in Bislig. The two of us have a date to the wet market and buy fresh seafood. He cooks it for me and I clean up the dishes after. Sometimes we also share a head of durian between the two of us if it’s in season. These indulgences, these memories of shared food make me smile thinking of papa.

But it was really my mother who loves blue crabs. Loves them so much. Loves them so much she’s usually the only one left at the table slurping and poking all our leftovers. She’s a bit of a janitor fish when it comes to crabs.

Growing up, we had seafood for lunch on most Sundays, especially payday Sunday. It’s either these blue crabs (cooked in the exact same way, with coconut and squash), grilled octopus, adobong pusit (squid adobo), along with kinilaw (ceviché), and grilled fish (tuna, blue marlin, milkfish, gangis). When mama says we’re having blue crabs, I know we’d then buy a large family-sized bottle of ice-cold Coca Cola. And for dessert, we’d have fresh and cold sweet mangoes. Who needs sorbet when there’s cold sweet mangoes in the fridge?

These elaborate lunch meals were also a norm whenever there’s a big boxing match that Sunday. My parents were big boxing fans. I remember mostly Oscar Dela Hoya’s fights or Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson. This was late 90s early 2000s mind you. It wasn’t Pacquiao’s heyday yet. It was one of those rare occasions mama would allow us to watch TV as we eat.

And so we ate—one feet up on the chair, cracking shells using only our teeth, gnawing and slurping all possible corners to get every little bit of that salty-sweet crab meat. Our hands were all sticky, simultaneously eating by hand and mashing squash with the rice, dipping each bite into a messy sauce of toyo, kalamansi, and red chili. Before we could even linger, a sip of that cold glass of Coke, all sweet and biting, washes all that hardwork down. Ahh good times!

By the time we’re finished, an insane amount of crab shells were scattered all over the table. My mother would still pick our leftovers one by one, checking and slurping to make sure there’s no more crabmeat left. As I’ve said, she loves this shit very much.

And since I don’t cook, I’m left with clearing up the dishes. You can just imagine how tedious it was to clean up after a crab feast. All those macerated shells. But looking back, that was a small price to pay for such a delicious, homemade meal.

Today, I seldom eat blue crabs. Jed is allergic, and there’s just not much fresh or available crabs in Manila. And if I do try to buy the legit Dungeness crabs, it would cost me an arm and a leg. So I’m happy with these poor man’s blue crabs. These are what I grew up with and they always bring me back to those boxing Sunday lunches.

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