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Nov 25, 2011 05:43 PM

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. The original comment has been removed
                    1. This is an American Shad:

                      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.