I eat fried butterfish with my bare hands.
OK. Some of you might think this is kind of gross. I mean, they have faces. They're staring straight at you. And they're not cut up and thrown in a stew with colorful veggies and thick sauce to disguise the fact that they have eyeballs. Nope. They're fried whole. And they're still looking at you when plated and nestled between a mound of white rice and pile of juicy tomatoes.
But I have to tell you: Fried butterfish is one of my favorite foods. And when served with white rice, kamote leaves, and tomatoes, it becomes one of my Top 5 Filipino dishes (along with kare-kare, vegetable lumpia, nilaga, and palabok).
Wait, there's more. I eat this stuff with my hands. All of it. Because there's no polite way to eat a whole fish -- head, tail, and all. Eating it with a fork is just awkward and useless. So I just dig in with my fingers. And there's no point picking up a fork once my hands get all greasy with crispy fish bits, so I eat the rice with my hands, too. (Which is actually a pretty normal Filipino thing to do.)
Mmm...I've painted quite the image, haven't I? Well, here's the kicker: The tail is my favorite part. It's so crispy and salty, like a potato chip almost, and it's usually the first part I eat. And I'm not the only one in my family who likes the tails -- it's not uncommon for a few tail-less fish to show up on the serving platter, as the cook and passers-by often can't resist plucking them off while the others are still frying.
The fish shown above wasn't served with kamote leaves, but it was still delicious. My dad fried them up for lunch sometime over the holidays. The salty and crunchy goes perfectly with the fresh, juicy tomatoes and the soft, fluffy rice. I had already eaten Christmas Eve leftovers an hour or so before, but I couldn't resist getting my hands on a fish or two. I told myself I was allowed because it was the holidays. And because they're my favorite.
On a side note...I originally wasn't going to write a post about this meal. I thought it might be too weird, that the pictures might be too unappealing. But being ashamed of the foods I grew up with has been something I've struggled with in the past, and sometimes still is, believe it or not. Which is why I try so hard not to pass judgment on foods that may look or seem bizarre. It's why I like trying everything. It's why I decided to say, Fuck it, it's my blog and I'll post ugly fish if I want to. And drop the F-bomb while I'm it.