I've met two people in my life who avoid meat served with bones in it. According to these folk, it's too much trouble, too messy, and just plain primative to be gnawing meat from a bone. These guys (yes, they are both men, grown men) think that chicken, pork, beef and fish must be able to be cut with a knife and eaten with a fork. If, by some great misfortune, they happen to get served a bone, they'll cut a little meat here and there. But when their plate is returned to the kitchen, you may as well serve that meat right back out to someone else for all the flesh that will be left on the bone.
Now obviously, these people are not Samoan.
You see, a Samoan's plate would be returned to the kitchen with bones as clean as a whistle. Or maybe that's just the Samoans in my family.
Let me illustrate. If my family had chicken legs for dinner, we'd be crunching away at the cartilage like it was a carrot. If we had beef, we'd be sucking out the gelatinous marrow from inside the bones. Pork, well, if it was straight from the umu and fall-off-the-bone-tender, no work involved there. But if we were eating trotters, all twenty-something of the individual bones in the pig's foot would be so clean, you could wire them together and exhibit them at a natural museum.
But let me tell you about the fish. When my family ate fish, dinner conversation was scarce. Instead, you'd hear slurping and sucking sounds and lots of finger licking, pausing only to pick out the bones from our mouth and place them in a neat pile on the side of our plate. I mean, fish took our bone-cleaning skills to the highest level of expertise. I'm not talking about eating the fish's body and tail - that's child's play. I'm talking about breaking down a fish head, getting a full meal out of it, eyeballs and all!
The following recipe is for those of you who are right now thinking "Oh yeah, I totally know what she's talking about". It's for you that have read this far, and have not screwed up their face in disgust. It's for the shameless cartilage-crunching, marrow-sucking, trotter-eating, fish-eye-loving bone cleaners amongst us. I know you're out there.
Sua I'a (serves 3-4)
1 lb (450-500g) whole fish or fish pieces with bones
½ an onion
1 can (400ml) coconut milk
1-2 (400-800ml) cans water*
salt to taste
2 spring onions (optional)
* Add enough water so that your fish is mostly if not completely covered.
Any medium-firm textured fish (snapper, sea bass, yellowtail etc) works well in this soup.
If you're using a whole fish, clean, scale and gut it, then chop it into serving size pieces.
Slice your onion thinly.
Put the fish pieces and onion in a small pot. Add the coconut milk and water. Season with salt. Bring to the boil and then turn down and simmer for up to 10 minutes, depending on the size of the fish pieces. Don't overcook your fish, or you might find all the flesh has fallen off the bones, and is floating at the bottom of your soup.
While that's cooking, slice the spring onions. When the fish is cooked, turn off the heat, throw in the spring onions and cover.
Serve hot, either in a bowl, or with the fish on a plate and the soup in a mug.
And enjoy fishing out dem bones!