Every culture has its own offbeat most-favored delicacy –an esoteric treat whose mere mention causes the collective socks of its passionate fans to roll up and down.
For many Southerners, and for me in particular, there’s nothing better than a plate full of sweet and delicious crappie, the lithesome and wondrous cousin of the sunfish (pronounced “croppy”). The other day I mentioned this preference to Mr. Wu –well, I more than mentioned it. In fact, it is possible that I may have rhapsodized, rather passionately, which explains why when Mr. Wu called me on Saturday night to wish me a happy Mother’s Day, he announced that he had gone fishing and caught some crappie that had my name on it for my Mother’s Day dinner.
Like truffles, crappie qualify as a gourmet treat on the basis of their high unobtainium quotient. You can’t buy these fine little fish at your local grocery. In fact, you can’t buy them at any grocery because they are classified as a game fish. Mr. Wu, an expert angler who prefers to catch striper bass, told me that even he was amazed to catch such a large crappie.
When he called, Mr. Wu asked me how I’d like him to prepare the crappie. Well, honestly, I’ve only had it fixed one way–filleted and fried. Oh it’s mighty fine that way, folks. But I knew that this would be tantamount to putting ketchup on escargot to Mr. Wu, so I asked him what his thoughts were.
“Ahhhh, you could have it with a chili sauce, or steamed,” he suggested in an obviously noncommittal fashion.He may well be the most well-mannered person I’ve ever met.Getting him to tell me how he would he prepare something that he wanted to cook in order to please me was obviously going to require a Jedi minuet.
“Hmmm, well, it’s such a delicate flavored fish,” I opined, fishing, you might say, for a suggestion from Mr. Wu. “Probably a spicy sauce would overwhelm the sweetness of the crappie,” I hoped I was on the right track, but Mr. Wu was not showing any cards.
Finally I simply asked him straight out, “Mr. Wu, what do you think?”
“I would steam it,” he answered quickly. Clearly, there was only one correct answer, and I quickly agreed with his insight.
When I arrived late Saturday night, Mr. Wu was seated in the rear of the Royal Panda carving roses from carrots and the wait staff was seated nearby, busily snipping the stems of a bucket of ruffled pink carnations and folding them into colorful cones of festive wrapping paper to be given to moms on Sunday.
Mr. Wu surprised me with a glass of Chardonnay and a small plate of his crispy shrimp rolls. I say surprised because he isn’t enthusiastic about me over indulging in either one, preferring that I invest in a wiser use of calories. We shared a hearty laugh over this rare opportunity to indulge because it was Mother’s Day.
And yes, even though it was Saturday night, it was indeed Mother’s Day somewhere. In fact, it was already Mother’s Day in Taiwan, and Mr. Wu told me that before he went to bed he would call his mom and wish her a Happy Mother’s Day. Who knew? Well, I didn’t. Turns out that Mother’s Day has been celebrated in Taiwan and China for years. This should provide us all with some cheer that moms are unilaterally appreciated east and west.
And then the crappie appeared, made manifest in a cloak of vivid red pepper, green onion, and ginger and resting in a pool of brown, aromatic broth. It was a thing of beauty. I was overwhelmed by Mr. Wu’s kindness. Even if I had never taken a bite, it was such a generous and thoughtful gesture. The world at that moment assumed a sweet oneness.
And so it is with the Wu Food Project, which may be more about Wu and his relationship to food than it is about Wu food. It may also have evolved in such a way that it is now more about a work in progress than it is a project.As I continue to eat healthier, I find more rather than less pleasure in the food I eat.
There was more crappie than even I could eat, so Mr. Wu wrapped it up for me, and I had crappie for breakfast. Later today I’ll pick up my mom and and we’ll gather round the set with my sons and watch the Grizzlies in the Grind House of FedEx Forum and hope for a victory.
But already, thanks to Mr. Wu, it’s been the most wonderful and crappie Mother’s Day ever!