I suck my shrimp heads. I don’t use a knife and fork to carefully separate the head from the body, and the body from the tail.
No, I use my hands. I twist the head off, and I look inside. Gooey dark stuff. Yum. Then I do a kind of suck bite, gently crunching down on that little face and its beady black eyes, extracting the bittersweet taste of its brain.
Then I peel the rest of the shrimp with my fingers, putting the peel in my mouth for a little suck too, to get a full taste of all the spices in the dish. And then finally, I eat the body, which is really just a formality at this point.
I need a second plate for all of this, to hold the shells and hollowed out heads and tails.
I also need a lot of napkins.
And so it was like this that I ate the most delicious shrimp in the world, at a sweet little restaurant in Lisbon, the kind of darling place that makes you feel like you’re oh so Euro-chic. Next to me was a German couple. They sat without talking to each other. They sat with their phones. The man looked up, watching me eat with horror.
I didn’t care. Because I’m nearly 50. Because my Chinese immigrant parents raised me to eat with my hands when I’m not eating with chopsticks. And because I know that the shrimp on my plate did not sacrifice their lives to be eaten in a cold, white gloved manner. They deserved to be savored in their entirety.
Upon seeing the way I made love to the shrimp, the waiter at this sweet Portuguese restaurant exclaimed, “Now that’s the way to eat them!” The cook, a butchy, tattooed wonder who called herself the Tiger Chef, came over, inspected the remains, and nodded at me in sheer approval. I felt like I had passed her test. I felt like I had validated her efforts. I felt like I was a member of a very exclusive club.
She shouted over to the waiter to pour us some well aged Port to cap off our meal. Which I noticed the German couple had not been treated to. They were unceremoniously given the bill and ignored. Because they had left with their hands too clean.
So there. Go ahead and suck those heads. Lick your fingers. Don’t worry about getting sauce on your cheek. Wipe your hands on your dress when you run out of napkins. Because this will be the memory that you take home with you. Because your lover will kiss your sticky face and tell you how happy and beautiful you look. Because this scene will play when your final movie starts to roll.