Eating Authors: David Demchuk

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David Demchuk

In addition to working on the new novel, October has been my month for buckling down and delving into the arcane sorcery of Amazon ads and promotions. How this affects you (to the extent that it does) depends on how closely you follow me on social media. I’ll be posting notices of sales and discounts regularly, but to ensure you don’t miss anything I encourage you to subscribe to my newsletter. In addition to the weekly links to EATING AUTHORS, you’ll be kept current on all the shiny bargains.

But enough about me, let’s get to this week’s guest. While primarily a playwright, this past summer David Demchuk committed novel, and as a result received the best blurb I’ve seen all year. The Globe & Mail has referred to him as “a master of bowel-loosening terror.” Seriously, does it get any better? I won’t even try to tell you anything more, other than his novel, The Bone Mother, was a finalist for the Amazon Canada First Novel Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, the Sunburst Award, and the Toronto Book Award. Yeah, all that and loose bowels. Order a copy today and get ready for Halloween.

LMS: Welcome, David. Spin me a one act play of your most memorable meal.

DD: In spring of 2004, my (now ex-) boyfriend Asif and I arrived in Hong Kong after a 13-hour flight from Vancouver. While we had flown on standby, we had lucked out and had gotten an entire row to ourselves, so we could put up the armrests and stretch out and sleep for large parts of the flight. Even so, we were exhausted when we arrived, and took a short nap once we checked into our hotel in Kowloon. We woke up around 10 p.m. to find ourselves famished. The night market was about two blocks away from our hotel, so naturally that was the first place we went.

Shanghai Street, one block east of Temple Street, is lined with tea houses, salons, food shops, jewellers and seafood restaurants. We quickly learned that restaurant proprietors would entice tourists by standing out in front of their establishments yelling “English! English!” to passersby.

In our case, this tactic worked perfectly. I pointed a restaurant out to Asif and asked “How about this one?” It had a large glass window, through which we could see a number of patrons seated, all seemingly happy as they ate. The manager, an enthusiastic older man, smiled and repeated “English?” I nodded. Asif shrugged and agreed. The old man ushered us in and then stopped us at a large and somewhat murky glass tank at the front near the cash.

“You like fish?” Yes, we liked fish. The manager grinned, picked up a net at the end of a long wire pole, ducked it into the water and slammed something against the glass beside us. “You like this fish?”

We both looked and saw that a large flat yellow and white fish was pinned to the glass, its eye looking right into mine. Great. However we were both tired and hungry, and so we nodded: Yes, we liked this fish. “This a good fish,” the man replied and scooped it out of the water and into a large white plastic bucket. I looked at Asif, he looked at me. Well, this is what we signed on for. The manager directed us to a large round table at the front window–probably to attract even more tourists–and he bustled off into the kitchen with the bucket.

The Bone Mother

“We should probably order something besides fish,” Asif said.

“I hope he’s not going to serve us the head,” I said.

“The head’s the best part,” Asif said.

“I’ve already looked this fish in the eye once tonight,” I said.

The manager tottered back out of the kitchen, still holding the large white bucket. I could hear the flopping and sloshing inside it. What is he doing? I wondered.

He came up to me. To me. “This your fish,” he said.

I peered down into the bucket. “Yes,” I said, “this is our fish.”

“Bok choy?” Asif asked. “Rice? Tea?”

The manager smiled. “Bok choy, rice, tea,” he replied. “This your fish,” he said to me, and then promptly dropped the bucket down on the floor beside me, turned on his heel and hurried back into the kitchen.

I looked back down at the gasping dying creature beside me. “Hello, fish,” I said sadly.

The manager burst back into the room with a pot of tea, rushed over to me, placed the teapot down in front of us, picked up the bucket. I held up my hand to stop him. “No head,” I said.

“No head?” he asked.

I made a slashing motion across my throat. “No head,” I said.

He nodded sadly. “No head,” he said, and then went back into the kitchen, a little less exuberantly than before.

“The head’s the best part,” Asif said.

“Then the kitchen staff can eat it and enjoy it,” I said.

A few minutes later–literally a few minutes–a younger man came out with a large plate of steamed rice and another heaped with bok choy fried in oil and garlic. Hot on his heels was the manager with our fish, cleaned and filleted and pan-fried and, yes, with no head.

“This your fish,” he said proudly, and set it down before us. “No head.”

“Thank you very much,” I replied. He stood by and watched as we spooned the rice and bok choy onto our plates, then each took half of the fish. I took the first bite, raised it to my mouth, chewed and swallowed.

Even now, I remember it as the best fish I’ve ever tasted–buttery and crisp on the outside, tender and flavourful on the inside.

I gave the manager a thumbs-up, and so did Asif. The manager beamed. “Thank you, thank you,” he said, then hurried off to another table.

I don’t know, maybe it’s because we were starving. The rice was delicious, the bok choy was delicious. Bite after bite, the fish was perfect.

“This your fish,” Asif said to me as we ate.

“Thank you, fish,” I replied.

Thanks, David. It’s nice that you took a moment to say thanks to the fish. Though, without a head, it’s unlikely it heard you.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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