By Lora René Tucker The Therapeutic Poet
Ah, the new year! Some make resolutions and others are just resolved. I have to admit as I offer my first contribution to Uptownflavor, that I am trying to lose weight and I am craving some fish.
Recently, I have been recovering from the holidays by getting focused on my goals and getting better with my diet. But it’s a low-down-dirty shame when I want some fish I don’t want the latest nouveau cuisine or fusion dish. I don’t want Mahi-Mahi with Thai Ginger, Madagascan Vanilla, or mushrooms from Minsk. I want some “down home,” “I’ve got no business eating this fried fish.
Whiting is preferably, but if you give me some good fresh catfish I will follow you like a star-struck ‘tween.
Now, I do eat steamed seafood. When I prepare fish I tend to bake it. Rarely is fried food a weekly staple, but there are times when I want some fish. And coming from generations of catch-it-yourself, fillet it if-you-can, season it, flour it, and put it in the pan – the genomes won’t let me forget it. I also know that there are places that perpetrate a fraud; That always compels me to walk in the opposite direction. But, when it is one of my favorite “down home” fish spots, well, ‘I want me some fish.’ I can’t help it!
When I look for some fish, I am not searching for the Zagat sign or the plastic celebrity pictures plastered in the window (though I can’t miss the new health codes in the window.) I look for two things: fish and flava’. Flava’ is just as essential as the fish. Flava’ is not the seasoning used, but the attitude infused. Flava’ is the servers not knowing your name – because everyone is “Hun,” “Sugar,” “My Man!” or “Chief.” Flava’ says I am allowed to smile and speak to the lady standing in front and the young man behind me in line, because we have the fish in common. Not the condition of the city or taxes, but ‘Should I get Mac and Cheese or stick with the yams?’ Flava’ entails queuing-up and standing on line. There’s something about that line. Standing in between two citizens of like minds. Listening to the people banter across the counter. Ordering and watching the fish and shrimp get dropped in the fryer.
Flava’ always allows you to “kick the Willy- Bo-Bo” with the person who is ordering ahead of you, or just ‘mine-yo-biz-ness.’ But rest assured, you and all surrounding you have their eyes on the prize – some fish!
‘Those are my pieces.’ I watched.
Relax, “Gourmet Magazine.” I am not a critic, but I have expectations as well. I want to have my fish a particular way. I want it seasoned from the spices on grandma’s spice shelf, and breaded with corn meal or that “secret batter that “uncle so ‘n’ so” would not divulge. Getting some fish!
And I don’t care that it is takeout. I am willing to take the food home to enjoy it in my sanctuary (if it makes it there.) Sitting at a table is an option, but table service is non-essential. History told me that my immediate relatives, my grandparents, even my parents, couldn’t sit down at many restaurants unless the owners looked like them. But at the fish spots, there was no disrespect. Just a lot of community and little notice of linen napkins or crystal wall sconces. At my favorite Harlem fish spots, I could always count on some fish and flava’. That’s something you can’t get at your neighborhood “as seen on television” restaurant.
And I didn’t say attitude, I said “Flava’!
That’s what I appreciate, the whole process steeped in Harlem tradition and “urban folkdom.” Wanting some fish, getting some fish, and savoring the flava’ while getting and eating some fish. See you on line Friday!