I ate shark's fin soup. Hell awaits me. (long)
I was traveling through the city of Hat Yai, Thailand a couple summers ago. Hat Yai is a culinary crossroads between Muslim Chinese, Malaysian Chinese, Malay and Thai cooking. It's also next to the coast (as is everywhere in Thailand). The seafood is incredible.
In the "Chinatown" district of this city there were rows upon rows of tiny hole-in-the-walls proudly advertising in English "Shark's Fin Soup."This struck me as weird because a) nothing else in the whole city was in English and b) I figured the market for this dish was only chowhounds and Chinese.
Ignoring the PC policeman, I sat down to a bowl.
It was served in a scalding, hot iron bowl which came from a four foot wide iron cauldron tended by the ancient Chinese matriarch of this establishment.
The broth was a dark brown, very rich seafood stock. It tasted crabby but more gamey. If you can imagine it, it's a deep sea demi-glace taste. Strong stuff. The shark's fin are actually extremely tender filaments of meat that resemble the gills of mushrooms. The texture is weird. It's like fish shavings that melt in your mouth. Delicious!
I have never seen the dish in the States. I think it's banned for eco reasons in other countries as well.
I hate to admit it but if I ever go back to Hat Yai, I am going to eat another bowl. Am I going to hell for this? Does severe chowhounding have Karmic repercussions? Or are we excused because we have a disease of sorts?
I am worried about hell. Hell has a grade school cafeteria. Hell hath only one supplier - Cisco. Hell serves the same dish every day, every meal till eternity. And that dish is Manicotti.
This would be a great posting for the General Topics board, as it is not discussing chow specific to L.A.
You might want to copy and paste this on General Topics, it could start a good discussion. If Chowhounds would like to discuss where in L.A. a hungry (or is it thirsty) Chowhound can find exemplary Shark Fin soup, by all means do continue that discussion in this thread.
As others have pointed out, shark's fin is widely available: I haven't personally seen it among the dim sum selections at Ocean Star, but as a fancy-ish Cantonese seafood restaurant, it's a good starting place.
Hell, well...whatever. "Hell" may or may not be a local topic of discussion, but your fellow chowhounds seem, at the very least, like a weird group to solicit as the collective voice of moral authority. You know what shark's fin tastes like, and you like it. WildAid is the main environmental watchdog pushing for a UN ban on the practices associated with its production, and has a wide variety of materials on its website regarding the effects of the shark fin trade. If you're interested in a moral analysis of your food desires, why not just read up and decide for yourself?
Look at whatever is touted here as a good Hong Kong or Cantonese style seafood place. Go there. real Sharks Fin soup is expensive, it and abalone are the caviar and foie gras, the potlatch of the Cantonese kitchen (Given that we don't get much of the other stuff here - snake, civet cat, dog, large game etc) and be prepared to pay lots.
BUt it is available and on special order will be made way unadulterated. I'm not a huge fan. So my tastes and my politics can rest easy.
Also, most of the Chinese medicine stores will sell the dried sharks fin. The CHinese word for sharks fin translates as Fish Wing. I think. I dont' remember exactly now and am too tired to check.
I'm not sure if we're talking about the same soups, but the one I'm thinking of is served in most half-way decent Chinese seafood restaurants. In fact, Ocean Star even serves it at dim sum. This shark fin soup has a somewhat thick, clear, tannish colored stock. Very seafoody in taste with filet-like pieces of dried shark fin.