One of my favorite childhood memories were of those times when my father would take me and my 2 younger brothers to Barking Sands, a popular local fishing spot. In those days, the military (which had control over the area), granted access to fishermen if no scheduled exercises were going on. I remember those excursions as long hours in the hot sun, collecting shells in the coarse sand and catching jumping-jack fish in the shallow tidepools. Dad taught us all how to thread limu (seaweed) on the line so that the hook would be hidden from the kala, a weird looking fish with what looked like a blunt thorn protruding from its’ forehead. If he took us during the night, we would put on protective footwear (tabis) and walk the reefs to hunt for lobster, crabs, and maybe an occasional octopus. On every occasion he would set up a very long fishing pole with an incredibly large hook. This would be baited with a smelly chunk of white eel that he had speared earlier. The main goal was always to catch an ulua (jackfish). Those beauties could grow up to 100 pounds and put up a mean fight. On those nights when he would be giving his all to reel one in, I would cross my fingers that the line held and the ulua didn’t get away.
It should be no surprise then, that I like eating fish and shellfish, either cooked or raw. But how I got accustomed to liking it so much, is again directly related to those childhood days by the sea. My father would often only bring water and crackers to get us by. If we wanted something more, he would scoop out the flesh of just picked opihi, a limpet that clings tightly to the rocks. Back then, they were plentiful and dad would have more than enough in his collecting bag to feed us. It’s a fact, when you’re very hungry, anything begins to taste good.
The fish in the Mediterranean is much different from the ones in tropical waters. They are less colorful. Still, fish is fish, and I find that those prepared in Italy are very simply done. Deep-fried, grilled, boiled or baked under salt or in paper, they are flavored with not much more than a squeeze of lemon, herbs, salt, and pepper.