We asked NOAA Fisheries staff who identify as Asian American, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander and who work in the West Coast region to share stories of their favorite seafood--from how it is harvested, prepared, or shared, to how it connects to their heritage. Read their personal recollections below, and consider supporting AANHPI-owned businesses when you shop for seafood or order your next meal!
Bernie Anulacion, Research Oceanographer
Fish Feeds and Nutrition Team, Northwest Fisheries Science Center
Filipinos love their seafood. Whether it’s kinilaw (ceviche), damong-dagat (seaweed) salad or bangus (milkfish) ‘the national fish’ of the Philippines, served multiple ways. Family trips to the Philippines include memories of pungent smelling fish being sundried along the roadway. I also remember the smell of fish or shrimp being fermented to make fish sauce or bagoong (a paste used as a condiment), when we traversed the seaside road near our grandparents’ home in the province. Our clothes smelled, our hair smelled, and as children it was enough to make us want to never eat fish!
But fast forward to today—I love seafood. And in fact, my career at NOAA has given me opportunities to be part of high-profile projects that involve seafood. That includes sampling and analyzing samples in order to reopen fisheries impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Deepwater Horizon, and other oil spills large and small. I was also fortunate to be invited to teach a course on marine environmental monitoring in South Korea, to participants from government agencies in the Pacific Rim (Peru, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines). They all had keen interests in how to develop their own programs to protect their marine environment and their seafood.
I am still involved in seafood today, but from the aquaculture side—helping to develop fish feeds with alternative and more sustainable ingredients. That’s my seafood story. Eat more seafood. Masarap at mabuti para sa iyo. (Delicious and good for you) Maraming Salamat!
Laurel Lam, Fishery Biologist
West Coast Groundfish Survey Team, Northwest Fisheries Science Center
While there are many Cantonese seafood dishes that I enjoy, I’m going to give a shout out to the unsung heroes of Cantonese cooking: dried shrimp and dried scallops. These little delicacies are used sparingly but give a simple dish much more depth of flavor in a non-fishy way (i.e., at no point would you be thinking “Hey, this tastes like shrimp”). Most everyday Cantonese dishes are only made from a handful of ingredients and dried shrimp/scallops give the subtle, savory, umami flavor that’s characteristic of Cantonese cooking. While dried shrimp and dried scallops are similar in what they add to a dish and can be somewhat interchangeable, they are rarely used together. They can be costly: a pound of dried scallops can run up to $100.
My favorite dishes to cook with dried shrimp are lo bak go (turnip cake), typically eaten in dim sum places, and dong gua tong (winter melon soup). My favorite dishes to cook with dried scallops are chicken soup and jook (congee or porridge). I use a small handful or less of the dried delicacies for each dish. They need to be soaked in warm water prior to chopping up if using in a dry dish, or simply tossed into the pot if using in a soup.
For the longest time, I always felt that my dishes lacked a certain something and it turns out that something was the addition of dried shrimp and/or scallops. They are now a staple in my kitchen and I can’t imagine cooking without it.
Su Kim, Visual Information Specialist
Communications Program, Northwest Fisheries Science Center
I grew up in America eating school lunches of pizza, chicken nuggets and applesauce. But every meal at home was very Korean—plenty of vegetable side dishes and a couple of main dishes shared family-style. Each of us had our individual bowls of steaming rice ready to dig in. As a teen, I used to complain about the pungent smells coming from the kitchen, only to enjoy every bite at dinner. Many Korean dishes have some connection to the sea. Traditional kimchee is made with either salted shrimp paste or fish sauce to add a bit of umami. Some side dishes are made with seaweed, fish cakes, candied anchovies, or spicy marinated crab. It's common to have a spicy seafood stew and a grilled whole fish as main dishes. Even the snacks I grew up with were items like grilled cuttlefish jerky or shrimp-flavored chips.
Seafood was definitely a big part of my diet. My all-time favorite dish growing up has to be jogaetang, this simple, briny, slightly spicy bowl of clam soup is so comforting. I have many memories of camping with my family, spending the day harvesting clams and then enjoying this soup around a campfire. The only ingredients needed are fresh clams, sliced jalapeños, minced garlic, salt to taste, and a little black pepper. Throw these in a pot of boiling water until the clams open up, garnish with chopped scallions and serve.
Emi Melton, Fish Biologist
Salmon & Steelhead Hatcheries ESA Consultation, West Coast Region
Japan, being an island country, has always relied on food from the ocean, so we have a lot of cultural celebrations around seafood. One of my favorites is a meal for the New Year’s celebration, called Osechi, which is a traditional meal consumed over the first few days of the year for good luck. Growing up, my mom and grandma would spend days leading up to New Year’s preparing Osechi, and my favorite memory is getting together with my distant cousins. One year in particular, we ordered live shrimp, which jumped out of the box when we opened it! That year, I learned that we eat shrimp wishing for longevity, until we’re so old that our backs bend like shrimp. While I haven’t worked up the courage to make shrimp for the Melton household Osechi, we also have many kinds of seafood in ours, including fish cakes (symbolic of the rising sun), dried sardines (good harvest), kelp rolls (happiness or festivities), and herring roe (good luck for fertility).
Kristen Koyama, National Endangered Species Recovery Coordinator
NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources, West Coast Region
My favorite miso salmon recipe came to me via the not-so-traditional internet; however, it’s a dish that perfectly captures my family’s Japanese-American heritage. Traditional miso soup, a Japanese comfort food, was my maternal grandmother’s signature dish. She claimed it was a “secret ingredient” that made her miso soup taste better than anyone else’s. But I think it was simply her love and generosity being expressed in warm umami and big chunks of tofu. Miso was more than just a staple seasoning to her--it was a link to “home” and childhood memories of making miso paste in rural Japan in the 1920s. Once a year, her neighbors would gather together and combine all of their resources and labor to make a year’s worth of miso for each family, an experience that shaped her values and sense of community for the rest of her life.
My paternal grandparents made their home in the Pacific Northwest. Salmon fishing was one of my grandfather’s favorite hobbies. When I eat salmon, it calls to mind so many old photos of my grandfather proudly displaying his latest catch, and the satisfaction of sitting down to a meal made richer by a sense of hard work and accomplishment.
Miso salmon is now my go-to dish for sharing with other people. I credit the recipe for being foolproof (since I am not a great cook!). But perhaps there is a secret ingredient as well -- my gratitude for my heritage.