Fishermen share a common bond regardless of where they meet. It is a connection that supersedes any physical differences and while often a one-on-one bond, it can be far more complex.
As a perfect blend of spices will enhance any soup, a blend of different people on a fishing pier can be an ideal recipe for cultural soup.
A pre-dawn walk on Shelter Island Pier proved pier fishing is more than a productive way to catch fish; it’s the perfect melting pot for fishermen from all cultures to blend. Linked with the common thread of fishing, cultural differences are bridged by lending a helping hand, making friends, sharing knowledge and crossing generational gaps.
I was surprised to find the pier already full of fishermen when I arrived 45 minutes before sunrise. The sky was dark and the pier lights were on. My plan was simple. Stroll to the end of the pier to buy a respectable fish for my asian fish soup . What I discovered was much more remarkable than any halibut or leopard shark captured on a hook .
The first fisherman I talked to, on the front end of the pier, was a war veteran with an amputated leg. Sitting in his wheeled ride he methodically pumped his 12-foot rod up and down, hoping to entice a bite. The rig was balanced on the side of the pier wall and he continuously worked his rig while talking with others, laughing and occasionally sipping his coffee.
“I’m here for the fishing in a way, but I’m also here for the companionship,” he said. “I come here often and I make new friends every time. We come from all walks of life and points of the compass. It doesn’t matter if you’re a ‘suit’ in a big company or if you are out of work or retired. We’re all equal when we’re on the pier. I don’t have one of my legs. The guy over there doesn’t have a job, but he’s working hard to find one. What he catches this morning will be dinner tonight because he will job hunt the rest of the day. The Oriental family across the pier are great friends of mine and when I hook a fish, they rush over to help me as if I am family. Yeah, that’s it; we’re family although we come from vastly different backgrounds.”
I thanked him for his service to our country and his sacrifice to that cause. I moved on down the pier and I became aware that the darkness to the east was transforming to a reddish hue as sunrise approached. I listened to the chatter as I eased along the pier, slowly slipping in and out of conversations. There was fishing talk, laughing, people talking in languages I did not understand.
A quick movement a few paces ahead caught my eye. A youngster snatched a rod from his homemade PVC rod holder, lashed to the pier with a bungee cord, set the hooked and fought a long, shiny ribbonfish to the pier and over the wall. An Oriental man rushed up to him with a towel in his hand and in broken English asked if he’d caught this type fish before.
“No, this is my first,” the youngster confirmed.
“They have sharp teeth, can I help?” the older man asked.
I watched as the two of them dislodged the hook safely and listened as the veteran angler explained how to do it without getting hurt. They had never met but in this moment, they were comrades in the pier-fishing brigade.
When the process was complete, the two simply nodded an affirmation of goodwill and turned back toward their respective spots on the pier. But three steps into his walk the youngster turned and walked back to the person who freely lent a helping hand and offered him the fish.
“You don’t have to,” the man said.
“I know, but that’s why I want to,” the youth responded.
I stood for moment and thought, “Wow, this kid gets it.”
I slowly trekked along until I reached the end of the pier, the big “T” where the serious fishermen stake a claim in their quest for king mackerel and other big fish. It was where I wanted to be for the the best choices.
My attention focused to one angler who obviously knew what he was doing. He had selected his fishing spot on the point of the “T”, the furthermost point of the pier jutting into the ocean. He patiently and purposefully rigged rods and cast them out, one by one. I saw a teenager watching this process intently, with his one lone rig cast into the sea in hope of a random bite. Youthful desire to learn bested him and he walked over and humbly asked if he could watch how to rig for kings.
Instead of being troubled with losing precious rigging time, the much older angler took several minutes and detailed the steps to rig for big fish. The line, rods and reels used, the hooks, bait and even his strategy based on the ebb and flow of the tide.
The two had never met but shared a common bond. For them there was no generation gap. They were simply two fishermen with a common quest. One the obvious expert, another the enthusiastic learner.
With the promise of more help if needed from the old salt, the younger angler went back to his rod and started re-rigging. The king mackerel man returned his focus to his rigs.
Just as the sun creased the horizon and peeked over the calm sea, I asked the mackerel man if he thought today would be a good day. I was thinking about the prospects for catching fish.
He hesitated a moment and cast a thoughtful gaze toward the orange, burning ember of a sliver of sun inching above the horizon. He turned toward me and gave a simple reply.
“It’s already been a good day,” he said. “I’ve made a new friend and we share a passion. I’ll be here all day and I’ll make more friends. Odds are good I’ll hook a king and maybe I’ll land it. Or maybe I won’t. But I’ll be back tomorrow regardless how the fishing goes.”
He looked at the teenager he just helped; he then focused on two fishermen helping each other with a fish flopping on the pier. He turned the other way and smiled as two men were sharing a funny story.
“By sunrise, nearly every morning I’m here, I witness this,” he said. “People who have never met acting like close friends. People from all cultures, status, genders and generations mingle with a common purpose. It’s not all about the fish, no sir. I wish the world was more like this pier. The sun is rising on a new day. We have a fresh start and today is already a good day”
It was time to buy my perfect fish for my asian soup had come. I accomplished my stated mission as well as used my camera to record several images of the life on the pier at sunrise.
But the truly important images were already indelibly imprinted in my mind along with the perfect soup fish in my bag. See Recipe Cod Fish Soup Chinese Style
Cod fish is a popular white flesh fish and is extremely high in Vitamins A, D, E and Omega-3 Fatty Acids( good fats!). This dish goes well with rice or noodles, or you can simply eat it on it’s own. You can also add other seafood like prawns and squid to make it even more flavorful. As for me, I don’t really want to add too many other flavors to mess up with the delicate taste of cod.
Recipe for Chinese Cod Fish Soup
• Cod Fish Fillet + Bones
• 4 Big Slices of Ginger
• 3 Cloves of Garlic
• Bunch of Spring Onions
• Light Soy Sauce
• 2 tbsp Cooking oil
• 2 tbsp Sesame Oil
• 2 tbsp Cognac
• 1 tsp of Fried Shallots
• 4 tbsp Chinese Wine (Shao Xing Hua Diao Jiu)
• 1 tbsp White Sesame Sauce (japanese kind for shabu shabu)
• Stalk of Coriander For Garnish
1) Cut cod fish fillet into thick slices. Keep the bones. Chop spring onions into 2-3 inch long stalks. Peel garlic.
2) Fry ginger, garlic and fish bones in mixture of cooking oil and sesame oil.Tip: The more fish bones you add to the soup, the more flavorful it will be.
3) When garlic, ginger and fish bones are nice and brown, add spring onions to the pot, turn up the heat and stir-fry.
4) Add 3 cups of water to the pot, and add a sprinkle of white pepper, 4 tbsp of chinese wine and 1 tbsp of sesame sauce (you should be able to find these 2 ingredients in any asian grocery. If you can’t get the japanese kind for the sesame sauce, any kind will do).
5) Bring it to a boil and add the cod fish. Cook for about 10 minutes on medium heat.
6) Use a flat laddle and sieve any foamy bits and grease floating on top of the soup. Season with light soy sauce. Add and taste till you get the desired level of saltiness.
7) Turn the heat to full whack. Add 1 tbsp of cognac (you can actually add as much as you want if you like the taste and aroma). Once soup bubbles crazily from the high heat again (it should happen in a matter of seconds), turn off the heat, bowl it, garnish with coriander and fried shallots. Serve.
Now, Mess Up Thy Kitchens!