My father and I would walk to Bangkok Market every week, the local Asian market in our neighborhood. As you entered, the scent of seafood and spices, bitter and thick, would tickle your nostrils and seep into your psyche. As we passed the golden shrine with smoky incense, we would go through the aisles looking for ingredients and colorful products to consume.
Bottles of sauces and packages of noodles, heavy bags of jasmine rice would line the aisles. Past the produce bins with weird and indistinguishable vegetables, some purple and some spiked, you’d go into the seafood section where rows of packed ice in plastic grey bins would hold every type of fish. My dad liked to buy Milkfish, it was best to deep fry. He would take me by the hand and point to the eye of the fish and tell me, “This is how you know it’s fresh. Always look for the fish with the big clear eyes like yours. Red eyes are bad, it means they’ve been sitting for awhile.” As my dad would order from the man at the counter, I would wander over to the big cardboard box that held the live blue crabs, mischievously poking at them and teasing one to crawl out of the box. I would then walk over to the aquarium where the lobsters would swim with banded claws and I would stare into their faces and think “How ugly you are!”
Once we would get home my father would start to cook. He would fry up the fish to serve along side his Sinigang, a sour Filipino stew that he would make with oxtail and green beans. The sour the better. The fish was seasoned and covered in flour and then fried in a pan till crispy. I hated fish and the only way I could eat it was with banana ketchup, a sweeter lumpier Filipino version of ketchup.
Bangkok Market wasn’t Filipino, obviously it was Thai, but it catered to the large population of Filipinos in the area. They carried Filipino products and delicacies such as Hopia, pan de sal, and the infamous Balut, a boiled bird embryo eaten from the shell. I remember the Balut would sit in purple egg cartons, and were dyed a fuchsia color to catch your eye. My dad would buy a couple to joyfully eat and mortify me. I can still see the little blue eyelids on the baby bird as it peeked out of the cracked shell. The market still exists, it’s there on Melrose and Harvard, a block off of Kingsley the street where I grew up. It’s a market that I still drive by today. It’s what I think of when I think of shrimp crackers, and blue crabs, and Balut. It’s what makes me think of my mom and my dad, as we walked to the market hand in hand, jumping over cracked pavement, on late afternoons with pink skies.