It isn't for the faint of heart. I am the only one of three siblings who'll even touch the stuff. However, it brings me comfort in knowing I have a connection to an ethnic past I might never get to know.
My mom immigrated to the states when she was a girl. She grew up in Antigua. In a tiny house with eleven siblings. She grew up walking some miles every morning to gather water for her family. Something I often forget when I complain that it's too dark with the lights off and windows open.
It's something that my Maam, my grandmother, would make for her family, something my mom would make for us, and now something that I make for her.
"It isn't porridge" I'd explain patiently as I place the semi-solid lump onto a plate. The special kind with the edges curved, as if one day it wishes to be a bowl.
Pretend for a moment you’re in my kitchen, and I present the unusual dish in a food network-esque melodrama, as I often daydream of doing while I dance around the kitchen.
The mass spreads a bit on the ceramic surface, like my mom after a long day of work, and smells a bit like the ocean sans the scent of dead fish.
I'd dent it with a spoon and pool delicious pork broth into the hole and all over, telling you about how this "volcano" delighted me when I was small. I'd linger a little to watch the liquid cascade before dancing back into the kitchen to soak the pot (because I never quite cook it right) and come back with a bowl of cold okra, which you wisely will not touch.
It's called fungi, except not like the kingdom of mushroom's you might cleverly use as a life-of-the-salad-party pun. We say "Foon-Jhee". It's simple, delicious, and utterly indescribable, like a dish you might read about in a fantasy novel. With a texture similar to that of a mealy apple (Or of silk, if you get your hands on the kind my grandma makes) but the taste like that of sticky rice. It's the answer to the equation Cornbread minus western influence.
It’s a cornmeal blob with jello-like consistency. But firm and pleasantly chewy. “Perfectly throwable!” reminds the part of my brain that never aged past three. It’s a medium starch for the flavor of whatever you top it with. Flexible to the point where i wonder if I might entice Jasmine and Sean, those two picky-eaters who mysteriously share parents with me, to eat it if I slather it in tomato sauce, mozzarella, and pepperoni.
I can almost Imagine Maam's house in the Virgin Islands as I put the okra in the pot to boil, and hear her reminding me to add the salt. I just know how much cornmeal to add to the water, and when I stop stirring for a moment to check my phone, my mom is right there, scolding me about the second time I almost lit the house on fire.
When my arms get tired from mixing continuously, I remember my cousin Jamelia's mischievous smile and think about what' she'd say if I put her dinner at risk for a little fatigue. I pace back and forth as I wait for it to cool, and stick my tongue right back out at my siblings' disgusted faces when they realize the pizza was a lie.
Then is my favorite part, I spread olive oil around a bowl, extra careful not to spill it, and scoop a spoonful of the sticky Fungi inside. I shake and swirl the bowl, and once I've gathered my courage, toss the fungi what feels like feet (but is mere inches) into the air, creating a smooth and shiny-surfaced yellow lump.
The leftovers go into the fridge, and when my mom comes home, she'll see a plate made, the special kind with the edges curved up that reminds me of how one day I wish to be closer to my family. For the time we talk over that plate, I have made El Paso, a desert city so far distant from her tropical birthplace, her home, and Antigua my own.