“Saan ka, Saang (where are you, Spider Shell)?”
When Rem found the noon heat too much, she dug for herself and her pups a trench under the bamboo and turned up a tiny brown bottle, bits of wrappers and a single “Tahong (Mussel)” shell.
Moving to Silang more than six years ago, the husband and I have grown used to living more than a thousand feet above sea level; our palates, not quite.
Calling Opon our home for decades, we are skeptical about “fresh” seafood sourced from Batangas or other parts of Cavite like Bacoor or Imus, all a good drive away.
Eating is about connecting with the people who raise food for a living. Makeshift seafood stands line up beside the Cavitex, the Manila-Cavite Expressway also known as the Coastal Road. Along the coast of Bacoor are the bamboo homes on stilts of the families of sea farmers raising mussels and oysters.
Yet, we have never pulled to the side of the road to check out the trussed-up immobile crabs and seaweed-strewn piles of shellfish. Tito G., who knows his crabs, cautioned us about roadside crabs, which are “hoho” or “ampao,” meaning “no meat at all just air”.
Far from hoho are the “Kasag (Coral or Mask Crab)” crawling out of the seawater-filled basins of women, up at dawn in Cordova. The vendors scoop them into a “Caltex” can as fast as the “Kasag” can scrape away, sidewise, crabwise, in their doomed escape.
Late afternoons are for going to Saac, just as the fisherfolk unload sacks of “Saang (Spider Shell or Scorpion Conch)” and before buyers snap these up for restaurants and hotels.
Dropped into water when it boils (not before as the animal will burrow in the shell whorls, reachable only for regret), the Saang is chewy and flavored by nothing more than its own brine and wisps of “sibuyas dahonan (spring onions)”.
Post-prandial, the Saang shell decorates our garden with its dramatic apex and fearsomely flared outer lip. As a child, I preferred the Saang’s smaller version, the “Aninikad (Plicate or Samar Conch),” whose scimitar-shaped nail I picked out with a bent safety pin after dipping my fingers into the greenish-yellow soup, imagining I was diving.
Don’t play with your food, was a childhood reminder I rarely heard. I threw out the not quite empty shells in the garden, where our dogs sniffed, buried and unburied them, still redolent of the unknown.
When Rem dug out the Tahong shell, she did not even spare it an exploratory sniff. Buried so long, its opalescent underside had faded to a milky opacity. Yet, living a thousand feet above the sea, I can smell this shell and recreate, memory as puissant as fingers, much soaped and washed, will still smell of the sea the sea hours and lifetimes after.