Ultimately, I think that was a good thing. Not because I was feeling antisocial. I was feeling rather lonely when I sat down, bit there was soft-shell crab on the menu and that is why I stayed.
The last time I ate something like that was when I was in Japan. I was 21. It was the last trip I took before I met the man I married. I stayed with a young women who had come to my school as a summer exchange student and lived with my family a few years before. The funny thing was that. of the 8 or 9 girls who stayed with us, she was one with whom I seemed to have to have the least in common.
I remember a lot more of what I ate there than anything else, I am occasionally ashamed to say. One of the meals I remember most fondly was when my Japanese sister and I went to Tokyo and we ate entire, deep-fried crabs the size of both my fists held together. I remember having to turn it over and over, tapping at the thick, golden crust with a spoon until, finally, I found a place to break through and scoop out mouthful after mouthful of sweet, perfect filling. I think they scooped out all of the meat, cleaned the crab, and mixed the meat with spices and something to give it a creamy texture and then refilled the shell a deep-fried the whole thing.
The meal at Humpy's tonight did not really compare. It was a pair of tiny deep fried crab. There was not much of a crust. Where is was just meat it was very good, but there was yellowed meat that tasted fishy and horribly bitter. I know it was an entire, uncleaned crab, but I don't want to think about that.
Instead I want to think of the memories it evoked: how I was praying, PRAYING that they would not take me to a sushi bar. because I had never even SEEN to a sushi bar and I had no concept of the difference between sushi and sashimi. How the very first place we stopped, even before we dropped off my luggage, was a sushi bar. We sat at the counter and just ordered by pointing. The chef would make that very item for us.
I often wish I could recreate that experience in an American sushi bar. Everything was so fresh and wonderful. My Japanese-sister would point to an item on my plate with her chopsticks and then touch her lips as a hint that I should try something. I got too quick for her and, the first time she pointed at the ball of wasabi on the edge of my plate, I popped the entire thing into my mouth. That summer, I learned patience.
After that, when my Japanese family let me chose a meal at a restaurant, I always asked to go to the sushi bar. My Japanese-sister and I got into a fight at that very sushi bar. She wanted to know which kind of tuna roll I preferred and I kept telling her that I loved them both equally. She insisted that I had to choose and I insisted that I could not until she stamped her foot and declared that no Americans really liked the fatty tuna.
Every morning for breakfast we would eat miso soup, a bowl of rice and strips of seaweed. Every morning there was a different kind of sauce that I would be encouraged to dredge the seaweed through and then drape the strip over the rice and make a little ball of goodness to pop into my mouth. I always did my best to appear grown up and eat only with my chopsticks poised to snap up every last grain of rice. Every meal I would be allowed to eat for a certain amount time and then my host-father would clear his throat to get my attention, lift his plate or bowl to his lips, and begin pushing the remaining food into his mouth like his chopsticks were little bulldozers. That was my cue to quit trying and just clean my plate. Or bowl.
Although at the time I was a little homesick for the familiar and longed for a breakfast of cereal and toast, I now buy little packs of miso cup-o-soup and drink that for breakfast as a treat. When I was in Japan, I saw that my host-sister and brother would get Cocopuffs and toast when they overslept. I contrived to "oversleep" one morning in hopes of that breakfast. I stayed in bed until I heard the breakfast dishes being cleared and then I came to the table, all muss-haired and faked yawns, only to be pointed to the rice cooker and a warmer of miso soup.
When my host-family went to stay at a hotel with another family that had children our age, I was asked if I would prefer to have the "American breakfast" or the "Japanese breakfast.". I declared (rather emphatically, I'm afraid) that I wanted the American breakfast. The next morning we went to a dining room that was arranged rather like something straight out of apartheid: one side of the dining room had a buffet of the Japanese food to which I had become accoustomed, the other sported a buffet of what I considered traditional breakfast treats. I immediately headed to the promised land of waffles, only to be caught in line behind my host-brother. The little shit systematically went down the buffet and took the last of the scrambled eggs, all of the pancakes, every last slice of bacon...every scrap of familiar food he piled onto four plates overflowing with cholesterol-laden American goodness.
Defeated, I slunk across the demilitarized zone of tables and chairs to fill a bowl with miso soup, one of rice and slunk off to a table with my tail between my legs, only to have my host-brother arrive a few minute later and set before me four plates spilling over with bacon, eggs, waffles and pancakes...he brought the entire American Breakfast buffet to my table and everyone who wanted American food had to come to our table and ask to share. They all came laughing and smiling, as if they all understood the humor behind why the skinny blonde was sitting behind four full plates each filled high enough to obscure her head.
On that same trip we went to a place that I thought of as an arts commune. It was several little rooms surrounded by picturesque tree-covered hills. We spent the day making pots (mine was so ugly and lopsided I just hope they lost it instead of going through the trouble of mailing it to my host-family as promised), creating paper decorated/inlaid with dried leaves and flowers (I think it turned out so well I gave it to my host-mother), made some kind of carving/sculpture that turned out so badly I blocked the process from my memory, and dyed silk scarves (I selected purple so I could give it to my godmother and I was secretly heartbroken when they gave it back to me after her death.)
We had to get take-out for lunch. I only spoke a few words of Japanese and, all day, every time someone mentioned food I would show off my vocabulary's latest acquisition: ebi. Shrimp. My host-sister's friend's mother (phew!) knew about as much English as I knew Japanese ans she delighted in each word I could say to her. I went with her and her children to get lunch. I didn't pay much attention to what was being ordered. I was busy showing off what I could say.
When we got back to the camp, I opened my lunch box. Inside was tempura shrimp, two kinds of shrimp sushi and deep-fried shrimp. I looked up, rather boggled by the limited menu compared to the other items people were taking from their lunch boxes. When I met her eyes, friend's mother beamed and clapped her hands chanting "Miss Janet ebi! Ebi Janito-san!"