I should think of cakes when I think of birthdays. Naturally, I should. Chocolate cakes, yellow rum cakes or red velvet cakes with chocolate or white frosting and candles sticking out of them. But tonight, upon this sleepy hour, I somehow think of caviar. Black caviar harvested from a really old female sturgeon fish tightly packed inside a golden tin with an enormous rubber band around it.
I don’t know why I should associate caviar with birthdays because I certainly can’t afford it on my birthday and probably won’t be buying anybody a tin of these tiny black pearls for anyone. But the idea that they are eggs, perhaps, is why I associate them with birthdays. The egg is where life begins after all. When an egg hatches, a chic hops out. When an egg is fertilized, something new is formed from it. A baby, perhaps. The birth of something new.
These eggs, this caviar amazes me at first encounter. It’s one of those ingredients that harbors some form of celebrity status in the kitchen alongside Italian truffles, Kobe beef and Blue Fin tuna shipped all the way from Japan. And when one comes across one of these rare ingredients in the kitchen, from what we’ve read or witnessed through the media, somehow all the knowledge we have gathered over the years rise to the surface and arrive at a confluence, conjuring awe. I might not say it out loud, but I can feel my eyes widening in a conversation with its self muttering an elongated “Wwwwoooooooowwwww” audible only to myself. Because there must be thousands of eggs crowding inside the can and I can’t help wonder how much does a dollop, on this nonreactive bamboo I’m scooping it with, costs?
What drives up the cost anyway? Appearance for one. Large, light gray pearls of caviar are prized more than the dark ones. Grayish caviar means the eggs are old (and probably not dyed) as opposed to newer eggs that are vibrantly black in color. Where the caviar is derived from influences price. Caviar from the Caspian Sea, either from Russia or Iran, where most naturally existing sturgeons in the world flourish, typically sell for thousands of dollars. Beluga caviar for example, with a reputation for being one of the most expensive foods in the world, is gathered from sturgeons that are at least 20 years old. Sturgeons from the Caspian sea can be considered “OG” or original since these fish have roots dating back to the time of dinosaurs. Caspian sturgeons are considered authentic caviar, caviar enjoyed by kings and tsars throughout the ages, which add to their value compared to farm-grown sturgeons. Because some species of sturgeons have become endangered, either because they’ve been hunted for hundreds of years or must learn to survive in increasingly polluted sections of the Caspian Sea, the sturgeons become few and far between which can only enhance their selling price throughout the world.
True, price is one of the wow factors to caviar. Beluga and Sevruga caviar can run for thousands of dollars while the Osetra caviar run in the hundreds. Is it that good that these caviar are priced so high in the market? Some say it isn’t the first bite, but the second, third and fourth bite which makes it all worthwhile. Honestly, I’m indifferent to it. It’s like boba, but really tiny with a fishy afterthought to them. Does it make any difference combined with potatoes and sour cream? It tastes pretty good, but I know I won’t get full from it. Too darn expensive! But I also didn’t grow up eating caviar nor do I have any fond memories to tie caviar for me to keep eating it. I’m happy to taste it when it is there, but I won’t be placing my pockets in a deficit to get a tin of it. Perhaps, on one special occasion I may purchase a humble container for family to taste, but that would require winning the lottery which is probably the only time I’ll consider spending on Beluga caviar all the way from the Caspian Sea.
[p.s. Happy Birthday SJP!]