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Buying Fish at the Super 88

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We recently moved near the Super 88 on Essex St. (Chinatown). I feel ready to attempt to buy fish. Unlike the larger Super 88 in Allston none of the signs are in English and as near as I can tell no one speaks any English at all. This is, for the record, *my* problem, but I wanted to see if you could offer any advice.

The fish offered seem to fall roughly into to categories: ‘alive’ and ‘dead’. Among the dead are ones that resemble striped bass. They might be tasty, no? How about the snapper? Can I get them cleaned? Filleted?

How about the live ones? Which taste good, how can I identify them?

They have very inexpensive what look like cherrystones. Any experience with them?

Any Super 88 fish buying tips appreciated.

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  1. I bought some dungeness crabs from the CMart on Lincoln Street that were alive and totally kicking for a little over $10 bucks each. They were good, but not pristine -- meaning, after I cooked them, I noticed some places on the shell that had a small hole that was blackened. I don't know if this is from the tanks, or if they get some rough treatment from just living in the ocean. We sorta ate around those parts just in case. In the end though, they were mighty tasty, and I'm glad I tried it.

    While at the counter, tons of customers coming in to buy the fish. I didn't see anyone buy one from the live tank, but what was being cut and sold on the ice looked very fresh. And pointing and gesturing with your hands can take you a long way should no one around speak English. I say go for it slowly. Try out a few things and hang back and watch what other customers are buying.

    1. Tips in any Asian market when you shop:

      Make eye contact with someone and simply ask if anyone speaks English.

      If not, simply point to what you want and indicate by number of fingers your quantity desired.

      If purchasing whole fish, simulate hand gestures for cleaning, e.g., cutting off the head or movements over the flesh to simulate fish scales cleaning.

      As far as fillet fish, again make gestures, but the more services you desire, you should tip accordingly. Pick a whole fish, then point to filleted fish and make your hand gestures. Tell them if you want the bones for stock.

      As for the fish in tank, they are all fresh, so they should all be fine. With the fish on ice, check the sheen of the skin or flesh and the eyes as recommended for quality.

      In general, Asian markets have excellent fish at excellent prices because these markets cater to their communities, who are more critical and demanding of quality.

      1 Reply
      1. re: fourunder

        I've bought live fish, crabs and the fish on ice at may different Super 88s, but not the one in Chinatown. They understand that you'll want it cleaned and gutted, and as Luther said, the other Super 88s all have the handy numbering system.

        I'd bet if you point to the fish you want and say "no head, no tail", they'll know just what you're getting at. The best advice is just to go for it. The first time I ordered I was hesitant, but all the fish mongers at 88 that I've dealt with have been very friendly even though there was a language barrier.

      2. The live stuff at the Allston location is always as good as tilapia ever is (fresh but boring), and they will prepare it one of four ways: live, right from the tank; killed, descaled and gutted but whole; killed, descaled and gutted with head and tail removed,;and killed, descaled, and gutted and then chopped into rough sections.

        In Allston, they've made this easier by assigning numbers to each of the styles, so counter people who don't speak English can understand what you want.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Luther

          They have the numbered styles at the Malden Super 88, too. Very user-friendly for us English-only speakers!

          1. re: maryv

            not so much English-only as not-Chinese. There are plenty of other non-Chinese Asians who shop at 88.

            1. re: peregrine

              I thought that the Super 88 folks were Vietnamese? Anyway, yes, I stand corrected: very user-friendly for anyone who doesn't have much language in common with the people behind the fish counter.

        2. you dont have to justify why it is a problem that a supermaket in Boston has no Engish speaking employees.

          1. I went for it.

            They do have the ‘1 through 6’ sign. The sea bass looked beautiful, I picked out two, asked him to prepare it as number ‘5’ – no head, no tail, scaled, cut into 2 inch chunks.

            Went pretty well except for no scaling.

            I was feeling good about the chunks being ‘authentic Chinese’ and that we Americans waste so much fish insisting on fillets. Until I realized that I actually have no method for preparing sea bass chunks. I fried them in peanut oil, it was OK, not great. Again, the fish itself looked and tasted very fresh.

            Number ‘6’ is fillet; I am going to try that next time.

            Something else I have come to learn about my Super 88. There is a hierarchy for access to check-out. Any ‘line’ that you may think you are in is some sort of Western culture illusion. Top of the hierarchy: elderly Chinese women; bottom: me.

            The place is awesome. Thanks for your help.

            10 Replies
            1. re: Carty

              That's pretty neat... I didn't recall there even being a fillet option in Allston. Maybe they added that since the last time I bought fish there?

              A tip about the (Chinese) grannies: they aren't just naturally at the top of some hierarchy. They get to the front of the line because they shove, and people generally respect this. It's entirely optional to do that, though... if you're comfortable putting up physical resistance to an old lady who's shoving you out of her way, then go for it...

              1. re: Luther

                It's a strange chinese cultural thing I'm not too fond of (and I'm chinese). In HK/China, there isn't much of a concept of a "line". These older folks are often from there, so they don't understand lines or taking numbers (not that there is a numbering system at super 88 though I often wish there were)...

                p.s., take the sea bass cleaned and follow one of epicurious' ginger/scallion sea bass recipes (chinese style). If the sea bass is fresh, there's a certain freshness/sweetness that comes through that most other preparations will drown out...

              2. re: Carty

                Carty, you give me courage. I've only been the the Super 88 in DOT once and was totally intimidated at the fish counter and just skipped it entirely.

                1. re: Patricia

                  Me too Carty. We go to the Malden 88 and I'm definitely out of my element there.
                  Seafood is my most favorite thing to eat, still I have yet to buy anything in that department.. Does anyone really buy a whole carp like the ones I see swimming in the tanks. They're Huge!

                  1. re: Gio

                    I've bought whole tilapia from the tank, but not a whole carp. I bet a carp would make a mean Christmas feast though!

                    1. re: heWho

                      I don't like tilapia, but I'm curious as to how you prepared the one you bought from the 88. For instance: how did the mongers prepare the fish for you and how did you cook it? I'm very wary of buying a fish there.

                      1. re: Gio

                        We ordered it with the head and tail chopped off. Number 5 I believe, but I can't remember. We cooked it rather simply, in a foil pouch with lots of slices of citrus and some sprouts we picked up at 88. It was good, but tilapia isn't the most flavorful fish (just the opposite), it could've used a sauce or something to go with it.

                        To give a bit more background, myself and 2 friends went to Super 88 one day with one thing in mind: take on the fish counter. We got a couple dungenous crabs, the tilapia and some small red mullet fish I believe. One of the crabs went into rangoons, the other into a crab soup, and the red mullets were cooked on a small cast iron grill pan with a bit of homemade BBQ sauce I believe. They were fantastic, very moist and flavorful, though the bones were hard to navigate. We literally cooked the whole mullet on the gril, scales and all. I'd recommend it highly, just not for young ones or those who dislike bones.

                        1. re: heWho

                          Thanks very much hW!! Perhaps in future I won't be quite so timid. I'm fascinated with the fish I see at the Malden 88. Your decision to "take on the fish counter" is what I need to do. BTW: I'm not intimidated by bones.

                2. re: Carty

                  Nice work bellying up to the counter. Once you get past your first experience at the counter, they only get easier.

                  I'd definitely recommend a dungeness crab from there sometime. One of my biggest dinner party hits is making crab rangoons with a dungeness crab plucked from the tank at Super 88 that morning.

                  1. re: heWho

                    Just thought I'd add this too. If you get the Dungeness, but don't know exactly how to clean it, this was a good step-by-step thing. Helped me a lot when I first bought some from the tanks in Chinatown:

                    http://www.instructables.com/id/How-t...