Tasting shrimp 6 ways

…rainbows of shining fish on ice, the mounds of shrimp still wriggling their
antennae, painted carts of lemons, jewel-colored candied fruit

– quoted in Duruz (2004), “Adventuring & belonging: An appetite for markets,” Space & Culture 7(4)

Shrimp are crevettes, which are prawn, or กุ้ง.Their wriggling nature, propensity toward full-body incorporation, and diversity of shape and size make them a polarizing little beast…or prize.

Herein find five diverse and, admittedy, rather random ways that shrimp are “tasted” (in the Bourdieuian sense) (yes, Bourdieuian is a word. I learned it today.).

I. Taste 1: Raw shrimp are poison

Shrimp and ramps
Shrimp and ramps

In the West, food regulating bodies have long penetrated the population with a resounding message: Raw Shrimp Are Deadly. Only recently, thanks to the West’s insatiable appetite for sushi, have dissenting voices found some serious traction. Bodies such as the USDA have proclaimed the dangers of raw seafood almost since their inception. To be sure, there is near-irrefutable evidence (and sadly, human experience) to corroborate the dictum that eating raw shrimp heightens one’s risk for poisoning. Beyond the allergen factor, it has been shown beyond a reasonable doubt that improperly-prepared, past-prime, or excessive intake of raw shrimp can sharply increases the likelihood that you will puke, convulse, and even die. Most of us, however, assume that raw shrimp is limited to good shrimp sashimi, accent on the innovative and exotic. We would be mistaken, however, if we thought that eating raw shrimp was a modern Western indulgence. In fact, the common Western notion that shrimp be eaten only cooked is itself the modern rhetorical turn. Before 1950, owing to a lack of widely affordable refrigeration, shrimp consumption was largely limited to immediate regional zones–in other words, chomping down on a shrimp  near to the place and time of its harvest. Eating shrimp raw was not unheard of (in other words, North and South Americans ate their share of good local shrimp sashimi long before they knew the word).

A “Northern cleaner shrimp” looking both Northern and clean. (Source: public domain)

Raw shrimp as a public health danger was only popularized upon vast amounts of shrimp being shipped frozen across the continent, ever since which, for most of us, “frozen and dethawed” shrimp has become synonymous with “fresh.” Bacterial danger zones spike quickly when food is in a state of dethawing (no, running it under hot water does NOT minimize the danger), so that its “safe period” for consumption becomes minimized. The safest bet for non-shrimping communities has become to cook it till it’s no longer raw. Another choice is to buy the precooked stuff…like that luxurious frigid “shrimp ring”–another faux “raw” experience enabled by post-1950s foodways. Fun!

II. Taste 2: Shrimp are an abomination

We all know that Jews & Muslims agree on more things than they disagree on. Growing up in an unkosher half-Jewish home, I was half-aware that shrimp, alongside most shellfish, were seen as “dirty” by the clergy of both faiths. I had assumed until recently that (poor little crusty seadwellers as they are) shrimp didn’t make the Halal cut either. Which is why I was equally fascinated to learn that shrimps are not just dirty, but in fact “an abomination” according to the most common interpretation of Kashrut law, and that in fact only Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims forbid its consumption.

III. Taste 3: Shrimp are not pink or finger-sized. They are small and brown

In England, “shrimp” are only the small brown crustaceans, and are used to make only a handful of regional (and largely obscure) dishes, one of which is Lancastrian potted shrimp. The rest of those coily crustaceans that we haphazardly call shrimp (including the big Jumbo ones that Paul Hogan loves to toss on the grill), don’t you know, are prawns.

IV. Taste 4: Shrimp hold magical powers

Potted shrimp, usually preserved with butter, and served on toast, served here with pickled cucumber.
Potted shrimp, usually preserved with butter, and served on toast, served here with pickled cucumber.

According to CreaturesWiki, a highly fantastical (and hence enjoyable) source of magical virtuosity, shrimp are “small crustaceans that seem to survive on… nothing. It is rumoured these critters hold mysterious powers, and the fact that they don’t have to eat to survive supports this.” Interested to know more?

  • The Shrimp are found in the Aquatilis Caverna metaroom. There are many more than one variety of shrimp. They include the:
    • Shrimp
      • Which is described as:
        • …gorgeous (and precocious) little creatures that infest Aquatilis Caverna… They certainly bright up Aquatilis Caverna, and are one of my favorite creatures! -From the diaries of Terasumaren.

V. Taste 5: Shrimp are your mothers.

Though the Dhammapada technically does not have any line matching the above, I speak with certainty in informing you that any Buddhist worth their salt(water creature knowledge) believes that the shrimp you are about to eat is, or at least was, at some point, your kind mother. You see, the Buddha taught that our past lives are endless and therefore every living being has been the mother of  another living being at some point. Was your mind just blown? Appreciating that shrimp on your plate in a whole new way? Well, don’t take it from me, go blow your mind a bit more.

VI. Taste 6: True hospitality to tourists/guests is demonstrated by throwing a cricket-glove-sized shrimp onto a blazing hot grid of iron fueled by a tank of propane

You know you want to. You know you want to. You know you want to. CLICK ME

VII. BONUS: Taste 7: Your words!

So finally what is your taste of shrimp? Let me know here or in the comments below!

6 thoughts on “Tasting shrimp 6 ways

  1. So what you are suggesting is that shrimp should be eaten fresh (like all foods) and in doing so, not only would they would be more of a “treat” instead of a run-of-the-mill staple found in sushi and high-end restos alike, but shrimp would also lose the stigma of being dangerous.

    1. I’m not sure I have a definitive stance on it – certainly there are risks unless you get your shrimp right off the boat! But shrimp in the West has certainly been “sanitized” as have many other foods. Also, I find the moral/religious beliefs around shrimp and shellfish interesting – that within one religion alone, they are seen as dirty by some sects and a common food staple by another. And of course, I am always keen to discover magical shrimps and Paul Hogan’s giant shrimp on the barbie!

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