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Shad fish - where can I buy?


I have visited this site a few times, but finally felt compelled to join and open this thread, for a very simple reason - craving for Shad fish!

I come from the north-east part of India (Calcutta) and have grown up to love a delta fish called ilish. Very bony fish that requires one to sit at the table for hours to consume tiny morsels of fish - almost a zero calorie food considering the effort that goes into separating the bones from the flesh. But, its taste is unique and no other fish comes close...until, I heard of the American Shad, which I am told is a cousin of the ilish.

Where can I buy this fish in the bay area? My research tells me that the fishing season in May, a long way off, but I would like to get armed with the information.

Appreciate any pointers.

Thanks & regards,

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  1. I've seen it in the live tanks in fish markets in SF Chinatown.

    8 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      Thanks Ruth! I will look them up. Did you see it recently (indicating I don't have to wait until May next year) or you had seen it some time back.

      1. re: ssaibal

        It was some time back, I'm afraid.

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          Thanks a lot for responding, Ruth. If I am able to locate the fish and find it similar in taste to ilish fish, I will post the recipe and you are welcome to our home to sample it.

          1. re: ssaibal

            Never heard of anyone eating shad. It was mainly used as bait to catch other fish.

            1. re: BIGGUNDOCTOR

              I have never seen Shad. But, I am looking for it as it is known to be a cousin of my favorite fish - ilish, which is not for the faint hearted or the lazy as it is extremely bony.

              As per wikipedia on Shad, "It is considered flavourful enough to not require sauces, herbs or spices. It can be boiled, filleted and fried in butter, or baked."

              1. re: BIGGUNDOCTOR

                I used to eat it quite often when I lived on the East coast and liked it very much. The roe is also delicious.

          2. re: ssaibal

            Ssaibal Bhai, my parents used to buy it at Lucky Seafood Market in Oakland.

            1. re: adrienne156

              Wow! Thanks for the pointer. Amazing number of options given by members in response to this request of mine. Appreciate it very much.

        2. There's a local fish that I grew up calling "shad" but learned on this site that it's actually Sacramento Blackfish. Much beloved by Chinese-American old-timers, you might want to try it as well. More in this thread,

          And the fish-loving, alfredck found frozen hilsa/ilish at a market in Union City a few years ago. I'm not certain that market still exists, so please call ahead to check.

          14 Replies
          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Shad are indeed related to ilish. Not sure if they are as good as ilish. I believe shad are sport fish in California, but I have seen them in Asian markets (may have been from the East Coast where there is a commercial fishery). Best way of getting fresh shad would be to catch them yourself (or have fisherman friends)--they migrate from saltwater into fresh to spawn in May/June. The Sacramento, American, and Feather Rivers are all likely places.
            Whereas blackfish are in the minnow family, shad are in the herring family. They both have lots of bones, but blackfish are softer with a more "freshwater" taste. Shad and ilish have a "fishier" flavor. I would call all the South Asian markets you can find to see if they have ilish; you'll probably find some in the South Bay. Good luck.

            1. re: alfredck

              Thanks for the info! I will do that.

              1. re: alfredck

                Thanks for posting. I'd checked your profile because it seemed like you've been absent from this board for awhile and discovered how far and wide you've traveled in pursuit of seafood! Wanted to mention that I passed through Union City yesterday and noticed that Gulistan market is gone, replaced by Haafiz Food Mart. I didn't stop to check it out but the window signage still promotes Bangladeshi, halal, and seafood, so might not be that different.

                Haafiz Food Mart
                34595 Alvarado Niles Rd, Union City, CA 94587

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Coming from the quintessential traveling gourmet, I take your words as a compliment. I often live vicariously through your posts.

                  On to fishies: milkfish do have some of the same fatty "sweetness" (fishiness if you will) as ilish. They are also cultured in India (one local name being poomeen), so may already be familiar to ssaibal.

                  I believe that there are also large runs of shad in the Columbia River basin, so Washington state would make sense as a source.

                  Shad and smaller relatives (threadfin, gizzard, etc) are often used as bait, including for white sturgeon.

                  I'm amused at how some boney fish are much appreciated by other cultures/regions, yet generally looked down upon here (for instance, shad on the East Coast vs here on the West).

                  I think the blackfish in raw fish salad isn't necessarily completely deboned, but instead sliced thinnly enough that the bones can be eaten. When we had it at Kirin, there was a slightly gritty texture to the fish, which I attribute to bones. If you run your tongue over a slice, it almost feels like fine sandpaper.

                  Finally, I would greatly appreciate any tips or contacts on the regional, forgotten, obscure, unique, or underappreciated. For instance, cui-ui from the scientific harvest at Pyramid Lake, Sacramento suckers with the Ajumawi division of the Pit River Indians, hitch/chi with the Clear Lake Pomo, Sacramento splittail with Chinese in the Delta...

                  1. re: alfredck

                    Wow! You are an encyclopedia on fish from multiple cultures. I think the food eating etiquette prevent certain types of food being appreciated in other cultures. For example, not being able to eat sushi with hands would prevent the fish eating Indians from really approaching that cuisine - there is something about the delicate approach to eating sushi with the chopsticks which makes it pleasurable.

                    On the other hand, certain food are strictly finger food - Indian food in particular where the flat breads are involved and in this specific case, eating ilish in a curry with rice. Just like eating a juicy smoked baby back rib or a thin crust pizza - neither of them are fun with knife and fork.

                    There is something to be said about the phrase "finger licking good".

                    1. re: ssaibal

                      Sushi is finger food. I always pick it up with my fingers, not chopsticks.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        You are right, Melanie. I meant to refer to the rolls. But, do you eat the rolls with hand as well?

                        1. re: ssaibal

                          Yep. Especially temaki (hand rolls). :-)

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            Learned something today. No more chopsticks for me with Sushi! Yippy!

                            1. re: ssaibal

                              Now that you're an experienced poster, I hope you'll keep us up-to-date on your sushi finds. Enjoy and don't be a stranger!

                            2. re: Melanie Wong

                              Just to clarify...we're not talking sashimi?!

                              1. re: ChowFun_derek

                                Right, not sashimi. Use chopsticks for sashimi.

                      2. re: alfredck

                        So good to have you back, sorry I can't help with your specific quests.

                        When I was in North Carolina in the spring, I'd just missed a shad roe festival. But then I learned that the roe was imported from neighboring states as shad was nearly depleted locally. Couldn't find it on any menus to try either.

                        1. re: alfredck

                          You got it. It is the slicing method of the blackfish which "hides" the bones from your feeling. Otherwise this fish is a lot of effort to eat. But if done correctly it is a treat for raw fish salad. If do not mind the effort the flesh is sweet and tasty.

                  2. This is an American Shad: http://www.usbr.gov/pmts/tech_service...

                    And this is a Sacramento Blackfish:

                    I don't know where you can buy either one, but I've had American Shad that were caught in the Lower Sacramento River, and those boys were BONY. Tasty, but bony. Good fighters with soft mouths, and did I mention they were bony?

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: ricepad

                      You are right about the bones! Right on the money.

                    2. I was told Ilish is available for the week following East Bengal victories ... since Mohan Bagan won last weekend, ilish may not be avail until the Saraswati Pujo.

                      What part of the Bay Area are you in ... or where are you looking for the fish? South Bay? SF? East Bay?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: psb

                        You are absolutely right about the two soccer clubs. I live in Fremont and used to buy ilish from Bangla Bazaar in Sunnyvale, but I want to buy local fish as far as possible.

                      2. Thanks you all for the great pointers and comments. Appreciate a very active forum. If Shad wasn't bony, it wouldn't be a good cousin of ilish. We keep some steamed balls of rice on the side while eating ilish as a rescue aid when one of the bone gets stuck in the throat - swallowing the ball of rice would release the bone on its way.

                        1. I'm not in your area, but can advise you to look for true American Shad (which is bony) during the Spring months - usually between late April-early June. Shad roe will start appearing at the same time. Since the shad fish itself isn't terribly popular, you may have to ask your fishmonger to order it for you. If he's selling shad roe, he can definitely get the whole shad (or filets) for you.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Breezychow

                            During the spring I have seen shad roe on display at Swan Oyster Depot in SF. That might be a place to check in season.

                            Swan Oyster Depot
                            1517 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              Awesome pointer. Will give them a call tomorrow to just find out if they stock during the season. If not, do they know where I could get them. THANKS!!!!

                            2. re: Breezychow

                              I think most shad is discarded from the roe before shipping. Some comes in from Washington.

                            3. IIRC Shad is the fish used in the raw fish salad often served at New Year's ..... Kirin Restaurant on Geary does a good version of this dish and Bow Hing? on Grant Ave also does it well. Also had a good version at Louie's and does Sam Wo have this also?

                              Sam Wo Restaurant
                              813 Washington Street, San Francisco, CA 94108

                              9 Replies
                              1. re: gordon wing

                                I recently had a de-boned fillet of ilish on a business trip to India in an upscale restaurant. It was terrible! I don't know if the deboning process removed the taste or was it the fact that the fusion approach to cooking that killed the authentic taste I was looking for. I must visit Kirin and the names you suggest to find out more about this salad that has been talked about a lot on this forum. Thanks for your pointers, Gordon.

                                1. re: ssaibal

                                  The fish salad has a lot of elements going on but it's lightly dressed so when you do get a slice of fish it's slightly sweet and has a nice texture.

                                2. re: gordon wing

                                  Actually, it's not really shad but a similar fish, Sacramento Blackfish, used in those raw fish salads.

                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                    As alfredck pointed out the difference between Shad and Blackfish, it makes the concept of salad easier to understand. True ilish-like Shad would be too dangerous for a salad! But, all these discussions about the raw salad has raised my curiosity and I want to try that as well. Having enjoyed the raw fish salad in Tahiti and my love for sashimi, I think I will like this salad.

                                    1. re: ssaibal

                                      Sacramento Blackfish also has those tiny, sharp, pronged bones. Takes a great deal of skill to filet it for the salad, probably one of the reasons that only a few restaurants serve this specialty. I've had the fish whole, steamed, and it's quite a bit of work to eat with chopsticks which are my utensil of choice for deboning fish.

                                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                                        :) I use 5 pairs of chopsticks (10 fingers) as it is a finger food habit in India. Even though I am quite adept in handling chopsticks, I cannot imagine attempting this fish with anything other than the sensory feel of my fingers telling me where the bones are.

                                        1. re: ssaibal

                                          I hear ya! I sort of sieve the fish flesh through my teeth to catch any other stray bones. Here's the account of the one time I tasted hilsa. Sadly the restaurant has closed.

                                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                                            Very nice review! I wish I could use kind words for that restaurant. I find restaurants in the USA (except NJ area) serving Indian cuisine lack authenticity - a food that can hardly be traced to any variations I have had all over the world. I try new Indian restaurants and then never go back. It was the same with Cafe Dhaka. The only Indian restaurant I go back to in the bay area are The Mynt (for the Hyderabadi Dum Biryani) and Amber Cafe (for the Kathi Roll).

                                            I have had wonderful Indian cuisine in hole in the wall restaurants in small towns of England, Belgium, France, Germany...but never liked the food in any place in the bay area or USA (again NJ is the exception strangely). I think I cook better than them. Luckily for me, I get to visit India 2-3 times a year on business trips and that ensures my taste memories haven't lost touch.

                                    2. re: Melanie Wong

                                      Thanks Melanie, I remember conversations about whether shad was used or not ....... but I didn't know what the stand in was.

                                  2. if you crave the ritual of sitting before a delectable cooked fish and slowly, painstakingly, carefully removing bone from flesh, might I suggest the milkfish:


                                    I see it invariably for sale at 99 Ranch in Richmond for $2.99 / lb, and I'm certain you can find it in almost any 99 Ranch, or Filipino or Asian grocery store (Union City or Daly City are your best bets), in the Bay Area. If you're unfamiliar with this delightful fish, I've eaten many since I was a small child, and two associations come to mind:

                                    1. a whole milkfish has many bones, and the bones are unique in that, looking at a bone laid on a flat surface, one end is a single bone one would find in any fish, but then that bone dovetails into many bones. The best analogy is if you looked at a witch's broom laid on a flat surface, or better yet, the part of a tree you see above ground. Many of the bones of a milkfish have a tree structure
                                    2. the rich, fish-oil fatty belly, that I find pairs well with rice. The milkfish has this layer of very rich semi-solid fat that surrounds its belly, and I find the belly fat can be divine with a bowl of rice. If you're into fish guts, I also love to eat the other organs of the milkfish, like the stomach and liver.

                                    Having a bit more time and patience when I was younger, I loved to provision 2 hours to leisurely take apart and eat an entire milkfish whole. What I do is go into the fish department of a 99 Ranch, ask them to scale the fish, and maybe cut off the fins and the tail, but to leave everything else as is. Then I take it home, cook it on the grill, or pan-fry it, and it tastes great warm, especially the belly, but the flesh also tastes great cold as a late-night snack out of the fridge. Another good thing about the milkfish is, if you look in the freezer section of any of the above mentioned stores, you'll find lots of other milkfish products, like deboned, or juvenile milkfish, or just the belly portion, which many fish lovers like myself ooh and ahh over. The skin is also really good.

                                    Happy eating!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: tpc

                                      Thanks for the suggestion. I have seen the milkfish at our local 99 Ranch market, but after your post, I am definitely going to try it. I do like the fatty belly of fish. The 10-15 lb size Indian river carp has a lot of fat in the belly and I love that. I love pork belly and so you know how my tastes are. :)

                                    2. I have bought Shad roe from the butcher counter inside Calmart in Laurel Village in San Francisco. I was just in, and I asked them when the season was--they just knew it ended quite a few months ago, so the May time frame is probably about right.

                                      They are pretty willing to order things for you, so I bet they would order Shad when it is in season. Prices might be more than you expect, but it's cheaper than a trip to India...

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: SteveG

                                        Wow! Great info, Steve. I will give them a call or visit them. I can get frozen fish from Bangladesh here in the bay area very easily, but I am looking for fresh fish. And also I like the buy local movement.

                                        1. re: ssaibal

                                          To be clear, I think the shad roe they carry is from the east coast, but I don't know for sure. They're pretty good about answering questions on that type of thing though.

                                          The butcher counter is a semi or fully independent business inside Calmart. It's Called Antonelli's Meat Fish & Poultry - (415) 752-7413

                                          1. re: SteveG

                                            Thanks Steve. I have to expand the definition of "local", but that is still better than 6 month old fish from across the globe. And our waters here are much cleaner than that in Bangladesh.