The Delicious and Deadly Stingray. Nyonya. New York, NY. (Partially from the Archives.)
It doesn’t take long nowadays for a high profile death to get controversial and downright nasty. Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, died from a freak stingray attack when the ray’s barb pierced his heart like a dagger. Irwin’s corpse barely onset with rigor mortis and already he’s getting criticism for exploiting wildlife by the likes of Germaine Greer, an Aussie feminist author and all around shit stirrer. In her obitchuary piece on Irwin she concludes, “The animal world has finally taken its revenge on Irwin…”
Although the Crocodile Hunter would disapprove of my unusual choices of food (Irwin was vehemently opposed to the consumption of exotic meats like Australia’s iconic kangaroos and crocodiles), he still did receive his fair share of wrath from animal rights activists due to his intentional provoking of wild and, often, potentially deadly animals. But, Greer’s particularly harsh sentiments in her article (Irwin hasn’t even been dead a week as of this writing) is something that the Crocodile Hunter and this Deep End Diner have in common. It seems all too often people who claim to be defending life, whether it’s that of a baby seal or an unborn human or a plate of lobster sashimi, would cheerfully trade their adversary’s life to achieve this end even if these threats are only manifest through hateful speech, vicious emails or denigrating articles. This not only seems hypocritical but is quite counterproductive. It’s not like Irwin killed any of these animals. Remember, the guy was a conservationist. He just kinda bugged ‘em.
Generally speaking, I’ve received positive feedback from people of all stripes. But there are extreme factions of people who’d like to see me meet my demise in certain ways that they’d find poetically just, for example, having me, the live lobster eater, eaten alive by lobsters. (By the way, this snuff film will not be broadcast on YouTube.) I’ve even received an email from “an animal lover” who was quite offended by one of my meals and asked in her note how I would feel if she “whacked (my) stupid baby over the skull and stunned it, then pulled its legs of(f) and ate them while the thing was still alive?” Alright, that was ugly. How about I meet you in a parking lot and you can try to whack me over the skull and attempt to eat my legs while I’m still alive but don’t touch my baby?! Besides, if she genuinely is concerned of the welfare of all animals and is going to be offended by what people eat and how they eat, she has a bigger fight on her hands than this culinary circus sideshow and may as well start crashing jumbo jets into factory farms and fast food chains.
So the Crocodile Hunter died because he swam too close to a bull ray. It could’ve happened to anyone. His death was not the result of a stingray mob hit ordered by the animal kingdom as Germaine Greer postulates. It was a freak accident.
And when I order a plate of stingray in a Malaysian restaurant it’s because I want to experience a new food not because I’d love to see the stingray population decimated by over fishing. In fact, the way I eat is a nice model for sustainable consumption. I eat a little bit of everything. I don’t exclusively favor tuna or shrimp or seaweed or Snickers. By the time I get back to ordering stingray in a restaurant again I likely will be eating one that is at least a couple of generations beyond the last one I ate.
Also, I don’t request that the stingray be kept alive as I consume it because I find it morbidly entertaining. If it’s a cooked dish, then that’s how I’ll eat it. If not, then so be it.
Steve Irwin was unlucky but he lived a full life and is still appreciated in death. The stingray I enjoyed was also unlucky and it was appreciated in death as well. That’s the cycle of life. Not conspiracy. Not sadism.
THE FOLLOWING POST WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN SEPTEMBER 2004.
Stingray at Nyonya in Chinatown, NYC.
Whenever I order an exotic dish that involves some taboo body part or uncommon culinary creature, I hope it comes to the table resembling said thing as much as possible. (It's the five year-old in me that loves to scare the little girls with a lizard.) Typically, it doesn't arrive looking anything like it used to. The reason may be decorum. I suppose most people don't really want to see what they're eating.
Happily, this was not the case at Nyonya, a fantastic Malaysian eatery in New York's Chinatown. Ecstatic to see stingray on the menu, I immediately ordered it.
You can get stingray prepared a couple of ways at Nyonya. One way is wrapped in lotus leaf layered with sambal (chili sauce). Or the way I had it, simmered in low heat with a lemongrass broth. I would've completely understood if the stingray was served in fillet form considering the size of this sea monster. When it was presented in all its wholeness, sans tail, I was impressed and overwhelmed. It filled up the very large platter. Bring your friends or your local tee-ball team if you want to order the stingray. Moreover, the ray's meat is dense and the flavor, complex. The texture of the meat is a cross between fish and lobster. The meat flakes yet has a significant chew. Adding further flavor to the dish is its skin which is similar to a thick-skinned catfish. Stingray is pleasantly well designed for eating. Its skeletal frame, like a leaf and its veins, is made up of the central spine and a parallel series of long, thick bones that angle down towards the tail. This makes it easy to slide off the ample white flesh. Stingray has a light fish taste and is nicely balanced with the lemongrass.
I tried to eat as much as I could, but, as any of the Willy Wonka kids can tell you, too much of a good thing can get you into tummy trouble.
You make some great points in this article. A lot of the self-satisfied crowing following Steve Irvin's death has seemed to me to be in very poor taste. I wasn't a fan of his show, but I respected the work that he did promoting awareness of endangered species and championing a number of wonderful environmental causes. Like you said, he only bugged the animals. He never hurt them and he did a lot to help them as a whole.
Some of these "animal lovers" should think about the effect their writings are having on his family and friends.
That stingray dish looks delish.
I actually overheard someone say "he had it coming. He was asking for it." How sick is that? Whatever your feelings on another human being are, you should never wish death on them, or celebrate it. That's just plain wrong.
On a lighter note, I would like to try stingray at least once. I'll try anything in this liftime if it's not still moving. (Unlike you. :-p) My friend had shark a couple weeks ago, and she liked it a lot.
One more thing. I am not usually so shameless, but check out my latest blog entry when you get a chance. I am really excited about it!!!
The saddest thing is that he never thought about the possibility of leaving his wife a widow and his children fatherless. It doesn't get any more stupid and selfish than that.
He is to be compared with the "Grizzly Man" idiot (who was eaten by his favourite ursine) and - to a lesser extent - the Siegfried and Roy incident. All smack of the same thing - a lack of respect for things that can kill you.
Finally, I grew up around sting rays and it's almost impossible to get one to strike at you, even if you do step on one.
I have to say I'm not surprised that he was eventually killed "in the line of duty," but I don't think that he would have been either. There's a far cry between expecting that someone will die a certain way and actually thinking that death is deserved.
I am also confused why people attack you in particular, Eddie. Perhaps that stingray was specially farmed in order to become your meal. In that case it has no less business being your dinner than does a cow or a pig (perhaps even more, depending on how the respective animals were raised).
Just as there's a big difference between wanting to have close encounters with dangerous animals for a thrill, and wanting to kill animals; there is also a big difference between wanting to eat a variety of different foods and actively seeking the destruction of a species.
I've never seen anything like your blog and I think it's fascinating, so please do not stop eating stingrays or anything else. Unless it's like, the last of its kind of something.
you know the funny thing is i wasn't a big fan of his either but some of the things i've been reading and hearing is really bullshit. and, yes, the reason why i was motivated to write this piece is because i felt a personal connection to the attacks. the animal extremist who would rather see a human die for whatever actions they deem unacceptable than an animal.
yeah, the stingray was very delicious. it's not a very common item in the U.S. though
yes, celebrating steve irwin's death is really in very poor taste. aside from being a sick person, she really needs to get a life. i mean, aren't there other things to be concerned about? look a little harder.
so steve irwin did those things, therefore, as you imply, he deserved to die. that's a nice world you live in.
thanks for the kind and thoughtful comment. i really appreciate it.
i wasn't attacked for the stingray actually. i pulled the stingray piece from the archives to complement the steve irwin story. i was sent a few nasty, scary emails when i had the live lobster sashimi and the live drunken shrimp.
i'm hoping it's germaine greer herself that made the anonymous comment.
By the way, it's indeed a deliciously looking stingray dish.
Here's an interesting site:
with photos, drawings and information about various members of the skate family. There's a photo of Irvin handling a croc with a note about his death as well as comments about how rare life threatening injuries are from stingrays. In fact, there's also a photo of a group, of what look like amateurs, handling a stingray at "Stingray City" at Grand Cayman Island, where hundreds of swimmers and stingrays share the water without incident every day.
thanks very much. eh, do you happen to know chubbypanda? haha.
yes, let's do, for crikey sakes!
you got my back but you're not going to the blogger dinner??? how could you?
yes, and the way i want to die would not be appropiate to describe here. oh, behave!!
thanks for all the fascinating info. you're a goody.
yes, look for the stingray next time you're at nyonya. remember, though, i had that meal two years ago so who knows if it's still on the menu.
Both of the rays, one in each tank, were impressive creatures and looked more like some sort of aquadroid, than a real bio sea creature. It is fascinating to have some familiarity with one's food before it's served cooked, or even in shrink wrapped styrofoam trays in the market. Another reason to shop in a fish market rather then buy fish in a supermarket, if it's an option.
so what you're telling me is that you had a pizza snack while you went to the brooklyn aquarium to go seafood shopping!! you are crazier than me. ;-)
thanks for stopping by again.
"if you love animals as pets, why do you eat animals as food?"