A box of caviar brings a sibling rivalry to a headOne of my more disgraceful childhood memories is of fighting with my brother over food. I don’t know how I developed such naughty habits, though I have confessed in a previous column that I was a voracious eater as a child.
I remember my mother’s grievous expression as her two children screamed and chased each other around the house trying to get the last dumpling, or peeked over each other’s plates to see who had the bigger portion.
We were never hungry, but often we would get into these banal fights just for the sake of winning, or irritating each other. These fights continued until we got to high school. Maybe it’s fair to say that I somehow enjoyed these battles.
One day, my mother brought home a box of tobiko, or flying fish roe. Normally, you would find these small eggs on a California roll or on rice wrapped in dried seaweed in Japanese restaurants.
But that wasn’t enough for us. We loved caviar. My mother knew it, and would always buy boxes of roe from a seafood market whenever she went to a Chinatown, and stack them in the freezer when she brought them home.
Caviar rice was a simple little dish that our family loved. She would give us steamed rice with a bowl full of caviar. There was a side dish of soy sauce and gim, or dried seaweed. We would put a spoonful of caviar on rice, add a few drops of soy sauce, mix them together and eat them with gim. It was a taste of heaven, really.
For years this was what we asked for whenever we seemed to lose our appetite. We called it “a rice stealer,” because a box of seasoned roe made us empty several bowls of rice.
On the particular night my mother brought the flying fish roe home, my brother and I got into a debate about how we should divide this precious caviar. Then it got physical. We pulled and pushed at the box of caviar until we dropped it under the table onto the marble floor. We couldn’t believe it!
The caviar was gone just like that.
The floor was a mess, and my mother was so angry she looked like she was about to throw a saucer at us. Instead, she asked us to clean the dirt up until there wasn’t a single egg left on the floor.
If you’ve ever had flying fish roe in a Japanese restaurant, you know how tiny the eggs are. One of the joys of eating them is to feel them popping between your teeth. It feels good. But imagine trying to mop up a floor full of popping eggs.
It was a disaster. It took us the whole evening to clean up the mess, and we never got a taste of caviar.
As far as I remember, that was the last fight I ever had with my brother over food. We’d learned the hard way that you pay a price for messing with food. Every now and then, we still sneak a peek at each other’s plates and smile, remembering the caviar battle. But when it comes to the food, we stick to what we’ve been given.
How to Cook
Albap (caviar rice)
Ingredients: 2 bowls of steamed rice; 4 sheets of standard-sized gim (dried seaweed); 4 teaspoons of flying fish roe; 1/2 teaspoon of soy sauce.
1. Top each bowl of rice with 2 teaspoons of the roe.
2. Add the soy sauce and the slices of gim. Mix.
3. Serve with miso soup or chopped vegetables.
by Park Soo-mee