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Feb 25, 2010 06:30 AM

Fish at Chinese Grocery Store?

I am lucky to live in an ethnically diverse neighborhood in the East Bay (California). Within 10 miles of my house are Mexican butchers, bakers, and grocery stores, as well as Middle Eastern, Portuguese, and Chinese (sometimes sort of Pan-Asian) groceries. There is a gigantic Indian spice retailer nearby, as well.

I ran into one of the Chinese+multiple Southeast Asian stores yesterday to pick up some red Thai curry paste and again was struck by the amazing quantity and variety of fresh, frozen, and some still-swimming-around-in-tanks fish. However, apart from a couple (salmon, mackerel), I didn't recognize the names of many of the fish. Don't get me wrong, they were using English names (sometimes in addition to names printed in characters from other languages), but I had simply never heard of the specific kind of fish. I know I could ask each time, but previous experience tells me no one really speaks English there (my attempt at finding galangal was pretty funny but ultimately fruitless).

So, is anyone aware of a resource (such as a website) that might talk about what fish are commonly used in China/SE Asia, how they are prepared, etc.? Google did not return useful results for me, though I will also check out Wikipedia next.

(Even though I am in the East Bay, and both Oakland and San Francisco have large Chinatowns, I posted this here because I know there are many other areas, including Vancouver and New York, that have plenty of Chinese/Asian stores.)

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  1. Asians are fond of freshwater fish big and small/tiny. some popular fish: pomfret, catfish, carp, eel, tilapia, pangasius, croaker, red snapper, tarpon, mullet,....etc.

    18 Replies
    1. re: Pata_Negra

      Depends on which Asian you are talking about. Cantonese are much more fond of deep sea fishes. In fact a lot of them won't eat fresh water fish at all.

      1. re: Pata_Negra

        Re: carp - although I've read that it's considered great fare in some cultures, I've never in my life actually seen a recipe for carp, at least one that sounded at all tasty! Any thoughts?

        1. re: SonyBob

          yep, much loved in eastern European countries such as Czech Rep. also, Austria and southern Germany. carp is a traditional christmas meal in Czech. i don't like freshwater fish [doesn't matter how it's cooked i still taste mud...] but i did eat carp in Czech and Germany.

          i think all the fish i have had on my 3 trips to China had all been freshwater fish. taste ok with whatever sauces but the mud still comes right through.

          1. re: Pata_Negra

            Is there a difference in the taste between grass carp and plain old carp that we catch from our lakes and rivers?

            1. re: SonyBob

              apparently the oil also gives it a certain taste. the carp fillets i had in Germany taste pretty mild.

              maybe i get a carp at the market today and give it another go. i plan to make something Vietnamese like caramalised fish in claypot.

              an excerp from this site:

              "The taste of the two species is also much different. I have tried both fish and believe you me there is no comparison. I attempted to eat a common carp on the banks of the Chattahoochee one evening. The more I chewed, the bigger it got and little bones were sticking out everywhere. A pack of crackers and a can of sardines ended up being my supper.

              Mark Anderson caught a 15-pound Amur from the lake, went home and smoked it and brought me a plate. I was hesitant to try it after my experience with the common carp, but didn’t want to hurt his feelings. It actually had a good taste. "

              another grass carp link:

        2. re: Pata_Negra

          I keep wondering about the croaker tied up in yellow rope. I think it is semi-dried and/or salted.

          Belt fish is another one that catches my eye.

          1. re: paulj

            get it, eat it, and tell us about it. lol... i think those are most likely salted.

            if not fresh i still prefer herrings and smoked sprats (like this )

          2. re: Pata_Negra

            I had croaker for the first time at Bund Shanghai in SF Chinatown and loved it. Not overly mild flavored but not oily or strong at all.

            1. re: c oliver

              i never know what fish i had in China. they are all whole and always served in a slimy sauce. did you also have it in a sauce? i mean like this

              1. re: Pata_Negra

                "...always served in a slimy sauce"?? Perhaps you were in China with a tour group of senior citizens from the midwest?

                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  no, i never travel with a tour group (anywhere) and just wander round checking out busy restaurants. even a popular West Lake fish dish has this slimy sauce:

                  but i'm free of Chinese fish in a slimy sauce for a while woohoo.

                  1. re: Pata_Negra

                    I was just joking about your travel habits; but do think that "slimy" is not an appropriate adjective to apply to other peoples' foods. I mean I often think of fat slob Americans sucking down huge cola drinks eating huge slabs of overcooked, flavorless corn fed meat with disgusting baby food texture along with vomit like mashed potatoes whose function must be to help slide the grisley grey overcooked to slop green beans down their fat jiggling gullets. But i don't post such things; and if I were to do so, I would select more neutral adjectives!

                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                      Sam work on the meter and change the form and you have a lovely poem!
                      "The American Dream"?

                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                        Sam F., thank you kindly! i didn't know!!! i meant to say SAUCE, honestly.

                        i had carp tonight....

                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                          Maybe we should add "steamed fish in slimy sauce" to the menu gaffes thread that's been going for a while...


                    2. re: Pata_Negra

                      The fish had been battered and fried and then had a red SAUCE on it. Not slime. For lunch yesterday I had some Sichuan dumplings with an oil SAUCE on them, not slime. One night I cooked lamb shanks with a SAUCE on them. Not slime. Oh, right, and then there was the chicken fried steak with pan GRAVY. Not slime. If you don't like sauces and gravies, you should probably order dishes that aren't prepared that way. And, most kindly, I'd like to suggest that you lose the word "slime" unless you're referring to ponds.

                      1. re: c oliver

                        c oliver, please accept my apologies. yes i mean the SAUCE! :) the oil chili SAUCE that is served with Sichuan dumplings is very nice indeed. i've had it countless times at the source so i know. i practically drank it. cheers!

                      2. re: Pata_Negra

                        I can definitely relate to the slimy description. I sensed you meant nothing derogatory. Like my nick, I used to eat fish/meat/vegetables in slimy sauces too. Not anymore. Now I only eat quality fish served no sauces to mask their flavour, usually grilled. I had wild atlantic cod last night and last week my family and I ordered black cod. At home, I bbq or pan fry portuguese sardines. I like to stay away from fish coming from Vietnam and China and other south east asian nations. Before anyone calls me racist, I am ethnic Chinese (but not a Chinese national) and have always been (more than 30 years) careful about consuming Chinese made products.

                  2. Fish are prepared in a lot of different ways: steamed, stir fried, deep fried, baked, in clay pots, etc. In fact, some stores will clean and deep fried your fish for you. Some Asians like to use the fried fish in a soup.

                    1. The most common seafood you'll find in tanks at most Chinese supermarkets (independent or chain are) at least in Northern California are:

                      Farmed tilapia
                      Carp (or grass carp)
                      Black bass (Cantonese call it mahng choe)

                      and of course, spot prawns, lobster (Maine / East Coast or from Canada), and crab. There may be slight variants throughout the year depending on the season but those are the most frequently seen ones. Of course we're not going to include oysters, manila clams, mussels.

                      If the store is big enough, maybe rock cod or something equivalent that is extremely huge (between 4 to 8 pounds).

                      What fish are considered common in Asia may not have the direct equivalents over here. Most supermarkets source to whatever distributors they have access to, and seafood can come from as far north as Canada or if not swimming in the tanks, can come from various parts of the world, including Africa, India, Vietnam, Thailand, New Zealand, and China (as witnessed by signage displayed at a local 99 Ranch supermarket).

                      I don't know too much about the various Chinese provinces and how they prepare fish, but in Hong Kong, southern China (specifically Guangzhou) and areas that are literally by the coast, including Taiwan, the most common and straightforward logical preparation is steaming. Fresh fish that likely never met flash freeze, straight out of the tanks (or at least from the fish market where the butcher de-scales, cleans, de-guts), is pretty much steamed to preserve the original taste. Other preps may add varying condiments to season (on top of steaming) but that's more or less it.

                      Milkfish, also known as bangus in Filipino cuisine, is a very commonly eaten fish in Taiwan and SE Asia. In southwestern Taiwan (particularly around Tainan) local milkfish is made into numerous different dishes, including but not limited to: fishball soup, fried fillets, grilled milkfish belly (with a lemon wedge) which is an extreme delicacy, milkfish congee, milkfish head soup (can be very fishy but adding ginger slices helps). There are restaurants that specialize in nothing but milkfish (and multiple courses of milkfish) with very skilled chefs to know how to de-bone it (and the fish is insanely boney too). So yeah there's going to be a ton of information on the net and it's going to be scattered.

                      Other Asian cultures may do some deep frying (and seasoning afterwards).

                      1. The most basic way to cook the fish that I know of is in a steamer. Take a fish such as carp, snapper or catfish (my preference), make some slashes down the body of the fish and top it off with some slivers of ginger, fresh sliced/chopped scallions, a little drizzle of sesame oil, soy sauce and rice wine. Place this on a plate and stick in a steamer whole. When the meat of the fish has just started to pull away from the bones, about 10-15 mins take out and enjoy.

                        1. Each market will have different species of fish, which will inevitably vary based on the seasons as well.

                          Best thing to do, is if you find a fish you think looks good, buy it and then come here on Chowhound and ask how to prepare it.