Is that a FishHead in my peppersoup? God bless you, Bintu. I will have some water and soap for my hands as well – this meal is well beyond the meagre resources of cutlery. It’s a croaker, isn’t it? (Do take my place for the first set, Bayo, I will be here a while. There’s an art to eating the fishhead, don’t you know? You are to take your time.) It has been said that houseboys never forget their roots, that even in later years when they become tycoons they stay nostalgic for the akpu and the tripe and the mean fare of their childhood years, they say that wealthy lovers of fishhead peppersoup must have started out paupers… they may say what they will, but tell me this: what other part of fish has such – excuse me – suckable bones. I have counted more than sixty bones in one fishhead alone. and each one so individual you can tell them all apart. Take this boomerang-like preopercle for instance. Detach it gently from its interopercle. Convey it slowly to the mouth. Excuse me…  Ah, what did I tell you? This is where they come to hide, the shyest, most delicate flavours of Bintu’s peppersoup. Aahh, the preopercle: it was flat enough to start with, wasn’t it? But when you suck at it long enough you will find quite a few of the eighty or so different muscles that flesh out your typical fishhead, all gelatinized and made succulent by the spiced mysteries of Bintu’s black pot. – Excuse me. – There, it is as clean as a… cleaned fishhead bone… if you excuse my metaphorical laziness, but there is nothing quite as clean as a sideplate full of fishhead bones sucked clean by an appreciative aficionado. -Excuse me while I slurp. It is not that I do not appreciate the spoon, but this way I return sooner to the main course, you see. And what a main course. Do you believe in God? This is one of the mysteries that drive me to my knees: let’s disengage the opercle. Do excuse me. See? When I suck long enough it yields the subopercle. Can you believe such cunning jointsmanship? From one flat bone, two! Can I say eureka? This did not evolve: you can take this conviction to the bank. I will have the beer, but let it chill awhile, Bintu, thank you. Here’s the infraorbital ring. See all those tiny whorls? Not quite as much as the preorbital, but rich enough. Each has a nugget of fish flesh that it yields up to the suctioning tongue. Of course there are fleshier cuts of fish! But volume is not the point of this exercise! Are we being cavalier here? These are hard-won morsels…  each with its unique taste! Sometimes I start awake at night, harassed by the fleeting memory of a dream, and on my tongue the shape and taste and texture of the posttympanic bone. Not all cuts of beef taste the same, do they? Don’t knock it until you try it. Ahhhaaa. Here’s the main kotooko. Excuse me while I suck. There was some uda in the soup, Bintu, am I right? It wasn’t just uziza bringing that black humour to the soup? You see? These bones are the lodestar of flavour, whatever spices you throw at them, they bring their own tricks to the pot…why do you think clever chefs boil them for their stock? I’m taking the mouth apart now. See such cunning hinging. See this stern maxillary. and the cute mandible. It is shaped like a guitarist’s pick, isn’t it? Excuse me…  and just as hard. There. You could slip this in your guitar case and strum forever on the jawbone of a fish, couldn’t you? Isn’t it curious how you do not crush a fishbone, be it as tiny as a scale. They are the lightest bones in nature, but the hardest as well. And they yield all their flavours to the suck, don’t they? Not like chicken drumsticks that you have to crush for their juices. I am careful with the premaxillary and the dentary bones though, because sweet things have their bite as well. You know what they say about yanking the lion’s tail, whether it is dead or alive? Well these dead teeth will shred the unwary tongue, I’m telling you. Let’s ease up the turbinal. I got you didn’t I? Many people are squeamish about the eyes, but steel yourself. The most delicious creatures in nature use the potential disgust of their eaters to stay alive. Go and ask the snail. Should l let you in on a dirty secret? Come closer. You know how some folks go at chewing gum long after the flavour is gone? Why do they do it? Keep chewing and chewing and chewing, when it’s not food? This fishhead was a signal meal, and this eye is my memento. Ask me after our draughts tourney and I will show you it’s tiny white ‘bone’ on my tongue. Beats a caries-inducing lollipop, doesn’t it? Or an asinine chewing gum. Excuse me…. aaaahhhh. That’s how to croak a croaker. Where’s my beer, Bintu?

4 Replies to “The Fine Art of Eating Fishhead Peppersoup”

  1. Kike says:

    Thank you for the inspiration to make catfish pepper soup this weekend! I can’t wait to suck the living daylight out of the preopercle!!

  2. NK. says:

    This was a brilliantly written piece! I really enjoyed that it was all written the speech of that one fish-lover, and that it was punctuated with “Excuse-me”‘s I loved as well.

  3. Amanda Dee says:

    I’m amazed at this story. *laughing* Never knew much anyone could derive such pleasure in sucking juices out of a fish medulla oblongata cooked in peppersoup. *shiver* Seems it’s technically the same as eating the eyes off a goat’s skull.

    I’ll rather risk the bony tail of a trout in soup, or just eat plain tuna out of a tin, thank you very much.


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