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etiquette for buying fish at a Chinese supermarket

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I would like to get some black cod (sable) this weekend and need to go to a big Chinese market anyway, so I'd like to buy the fish there.

If the only fish they have is whole, is it OK to ask them to bone and clean it? What if they have both whole fish AND boned & clean fish -- can I ask them to bone and clean a whole fish in order to get a fresher cut?

I speak no Chinese and don't look Chinese, in case that affects your response. The place I'm going is 99 Ranch in Daly City, outside of San Francisco.

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  1. Buying a fish at a chinese market San Francisco is probably the same as buying at any other chinese market in North America. You should be able to ask them to clean and bone a fish at an extra cost. I usually find that if the fish you are buying has high turnover they will already have some cut and boned, so you'll probably find it difficult to get them to cut up another fish.

    1. I am Chinese but don't speak Cantonese which is the lingua franca in most of the Asian groceries around me. I point to the particular fish I want (it's OK to be fussy about exactly which fish it is) and they will usually ask if I want it "cleaned". That means scaled and gutted. I don't know how to get a fish boned and have whole pieces because I never get fresh fish this way, but I've heard customers asking for the fish to be "cut up". That might mean deboning the fish but I'm not sure.

      IME I always have to clean the fish again when I get home to take care of scales they missed or bits of the intestines that didn't get washed away. But the fish is always the freshest available.

      1. I occasionally buy whole fish at the Ranch 99 in Foster City. They will scale, remove the gill and gut the fish but will not fillet it for you. As stated in the previous post, a little extra cleaning is usually necessary at home.

        1. By boned do you mean filleted or cut into steaks?

          Either way, the Asian fish markets here in the NY area will cut it up however you want.

          2 Replies
          1. re: JMF

            I should have been more specific. I meant filleted. Perhaps "boned" wasn't the right word. So, if this changes any responses: can I ask for it to be filleted?

            1. re: david kaplan

              Yes, cutting into steaks is across the spine. The steaks waste nothing. Filleting means you will have the bones and head to take home to make a fish stock and fish-head soup.

              Filleting is a useful skill and not difficult, just takes a few fish to perfect the technique.

          2. Many of the Asian markets around here have a signboard showing various ways to buy your fish, each one numbered: 1. whole; 2. cleaned whole; 3. cleaned, head off ; 4. cleaned, tail off, etcetera. If your 99 Ranch has nothing like this I'd go ahead and ask. I'm sure they're used to dealing with hesitant gwailo...

            1. My mom shops at the 99 in Daly City and thats where I grew up. You can definitely pick any fish you want. The only difference with 99 and other asian supermarkets is that 99 doesn't like you to touch the fish to check for freshness (pick up the gills to check the color inside). Most other places don't mind as long as you touch the fish with a plastic bag, but for some reason they don't like it. They usually hold the fish for you whle you pick up the gills. If you want another one, they pick up the other one and let you pick up the gills. As Will Owen says they have a board showing how you like your fish cut. They do filet your fish for you. I always get them cut into filets and then deep fried. I ask them to put some salt on it, and they do.

              The people at 99 generally speak a little bit of english especially at the Daly City location as many of their customers are Filipino as well.