Monday, September 20, 2010


The anchovy is one of my favorite foods. It’s salty because it is packed in salt to preserve the delicate proteins from hydrolyzing into mushiness; it’s prickly because the bones cannot be removed, oily because of a 9% fat content, and it has a rank sea flavor attributable to some of the free fatty acids and amines that are found in great concentration. Superficially, this description does not appeal to the senses.

Nevertheless, anchovies have been used as a human food for thousands of years. At the time of Julius Caesar, Pompeii was an attractive community that owed its prosperity to the production garum or liquamen, fish sauces made from fermented anchovies. In Apicius’s cookbook, one of the only surviving Roman cookbooks, sauces usually contained anchovy. Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies. In old European recipes, one often sees anchovy as a flavor ingredient. One of the pillars of Thai cuisine is nuoc mam, the fish sauce that adds so much aroma and flavor.

I have loved anchovies from a very early age. When I was 11, we lived in Roubaix, France. For a December vacation, we drove to Switzerland, where I discovered another passion--mountains. On the way back, we pushed our luck a little and drove in the evening. I ate a pile of anchovies as an appetizer before dinner. My parents couldn’t believe I could do such a thing.

Later in the evening, we drove on icy roads through the mountains. While my sister Carol and I slept, my parents pulled over for a bathroom break for my younger sister, Joanne. As they were standing outside the car, another car came over the hill and skidded on the icy cobblestones into our car’s left fender. Carol and I slept through that. When they got out to inspect, another car plowed into the back, causing ours to roll down the hill. My sister Carol and I awoke to my mother screaming, “Otto! The car!”, and my father ran after our car and stopped it.

We piled into the car along with the woman from the car that had cause us to roll and drove her to the nearest hospital. This was around midnight. As we pulled up to the hospital, mammoth oak doors opened to reveal a courtyard of nuns walking about in enormous winged hats.

Weeks later, we received in the mail a box of chocolates and our towel back, cleaned. Was there a connection to the anchovies? Or, was the plate of anchovies merely incidental?

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