SECOND HELPINGS

Shrimp Nostalgia: After I discovered that Fisher Kings Seafood and Market doesn't offer fresh shrimp, I wondered where in town I could find it. I called the two likeliest suspects, the Seafood Market and Restaurant in Ahwatukee and AJ's Purveyor of Fine Foods. Each has a superb retail fish section, but neither handles fresh shrimp. "It's just about impossible to get here in the Valley," they both lamented. My memories jerked back 20 years to 1974, when I was a Peace Corps volunteer living along the Ziguinchor River in Senegal. This west African backwater was hardly a culinary paradise. But we quickly learned that Senegal, like many Third World countries, could be counted on for three things: plenty of mosquitoes, plenty of petty bureaucrats and plenty of cheap shrimp. The town's shrimp "fleet" docked every morning just outside our house. It consisted of about a dozen motorless dugouts and 50 brave men. Every evening, they'd go shrimping, and they'd get in about the time we woke up. The shrimp never made it to the local market. It was much too valuable a commodity. Instead, it was immediately frozen and shipped to France for hard currency. Except for what we bought. Almost every day, we'd stumble out and meet the crews, armed with a huge basin. We asked them to fill it up with a kilo of shrimp, a little over two pounds. At first, the shrimpers generously tried to give us the smallest shrimp, which the French prize. But being crazy Americans, we told them we'd be glad to take the biggest, fattest specimens off their hands. Cost per kilo? About 50 cents. We'd bring the critters in and watch them cavort in the basin, oblivious to their future. Then we'd bicycle off to work. On our way home, at noon, we'd stop and pick up a loaf of piping-hot French bread. It only took a minute or so to boil the shrimp to perfection. Then we'd bring out the jar of Hellman's mayonnaise, which, with the possible exception of toilet paper and insect repellent, is the single most useful item you can bring to the African backcountry.

Finally, lunchtime: in one hand, fresh-from-the-sea shrimp, dipped in mayonnaise; in the other, steaming, crusty French bread. Even then, young as we were, we knew life would probably never again be as good. Especially since, according to a time-honored French-colonial custom honored by the Senegalese, lunch was always followed by a three-hour "sieste." As far as I'm concerned, civilization can go no higher. Fish News: Leave it to the Japanese, the world's supreme fish lovers, to discover ever more bizarre and exotic seafood delicacies. The most recent taste morsel: tuna eyeball. According to the Wall Street Journal, this specialty has taken hold amid reports that it not only tastes great, but lowers blood pressure, clears the skin and stimulates the brain. Nutritionists point to the benefits of docosahexaenoic acid, of which tuna eyeball is apparently an abundant source.

The raw product sells for $2 to $3 per eye, while a can will set you back $15 at the fancier stores. The newspaper says that the premium price reflects scarcity: Tokyo's wholesale market gets in only 10,000 big-eyed tuna per month--that's only 20,000 eyes. And the big-eyed tuna is said to have the tastiest orbs.

 
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