Fighting Fish and Grass Jelly

On the hunt today for Rendang curry paste which until recently has been on the shelves at the neighbourhood supermarket, but now sadly seems as rare as hen’s teeth. (I hope my mate Su isn’t reading this, she will be horrified to read I’m not making it from scratch!) The paste I’m looking for is perhaps as authentic as you can find in a jar and when it is slow cooked with beef, shredded coconut, coconut milk and tamarind paste it really is good….really, really good.

No luck either at the Vietnamese veggie shop, bulging with bok choy, choy sum, pak choi, bunches of spring onions, coriander, lemon grass, curry leaves and baskets of bean sprouts, snow peas, tiny white Thai eggplants and chillies. Red, green and glossy, some of the chillies the size of baby carrots and others are innocently tiny and punch above their weight and size. Tucked in the back corner are shelves of pickles, pastes and marinades, cans of pilchards in sauce, pink pickled ginger, dried salty-sweet anchovies, bottles of fish sauce and pungent shredded shrimp. Sacks of rice in decorated, zipped hessian, packs of noodles  pencil thin and glasslike, thick and dried egg yellow and yet more chillies. Pulped and mixed with fermented black beans and steeped in glossy yellow oil it is a mouth watering experience wandering through this tight aisled area. Between the vegetables and fruits… an exotic salad of apples and plums, dragon fruit, papaya and lychees…a couple of freezers are stocked with pork buns for steaming, spring rolls for dipping and snowy, white slabs of fish. In the fridge are cans of chrysanthemum tea and grass jelly and tubs of slippery tofu. No rendang  though.

Staying with the fishy theme the little deli I dropped into on the way home with a vague hope they may have a rendang  stash has a real surprise in store.There amongst the deli counters, newspapers, odd little collections of brushes and brooms and shelves of cans, sweets, incense and biscuits is a fish tank full of goldfish. Perched on top, are jars of Siamese Fighting Fish, gloriously coloured with fins floating like silk scarves. They look so cramped and solitary in the jars, eyeing each other up through glass. Of course they can’t be together in tanks because they are fighting fish and it would be on for one and all. In the wild they live anywhere there is water, even tiny puddles which is why the male is so aggressive, protecting his tiny pool. Known as labyrinthine fish they can not  only breathe through gills but through a breathing structure (the labyrinth) that allows it to absorb air gulped in from the surface. This is a big deal in fish evolution, next step the lung fish.In captivity they are bred as both ornamental and fighting fish though in Australia wagered fights are strictly illegal. It seems like a terribly sad existence.For these aggressive but very pretty fish there is another, if still, solitary alternative. Special tanks called ‘Betta Barracks’ separate the males with clear dividers so they can still see each other and show off their finnage in displays. Apparently this is the way to go when keeping fighting fish and a solitary fish should have a mirror in the tank. I read they are great pets for those with ‘little spare time or space’… no walks around the hot weather park then.

Just to add to the intrigue in this curious little shop with its very curious content is a sign about cannabis. This above the stacks of incense cones and sticks, I’m still trying to work out if there is a connection. There again joining the dots in this particularly unusual deli is fishy business!!

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