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Where to buy live fish (to steam at home)?

I live in the South Bay (so SF's Chinatown is out of reach).

I like buying live fish home to steam, but I want something nicer than the usual catfish, tilapia, cabazon or black bass you find at Ranch / Marina but don't necessarily want to go to a restaurant and fork over $30-$40 a pound for it.

In the past, Tin Tin in Cupertino used to carry a lot of exotic fish (such as hung lung, my favorite), but closed up years back. Are there any other places like that that carry a decent selection of live fish?

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  1. Maxim on De Anza, close to 85

    1 Reply
    1. re: Alan408

      I live 5 minutes away from there, and Maxim has been closed for a few months now (the plaza's torn down and rebuilding).

    2. Curious as to what type of fish a hung lung is. IMO, cabazon is tough to beat.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Civil Bear

        It's colloquially known as the "red" fish (hence the hung part). Has very soft, delicate flesh, but at the same time, it's meaty.


      2. I think this is not just a challenge for those wanting to steam a good non run of the mill 99 Ranch/Marina fish, but also for the smaller Cantonese and other kinds of Chinese restaurants that don't have the financial backing of the upper tier restaurants (like Koi Palace for example) and want to procure some half decent quality fish for seafood dishes.

        With that said I can tell you that Boson Yum (and his wife) make the schlep to Oakland Chinatown from Fremont to get his seafood, though his stock and trade are lobsters and crabs.

        Former restaurant chef Andy Wai (who now runs a private catering business) when he was still at Chef Wai San Mateo, had to purchase seafood from places like Sunset Supermarket on Vincente, for special orders (e.g. a larger fish for steaming, forgot what it was).

        You might want to call or check out places like Sun Fat in SF just to get an idea of what kind of fish they have available should you decide to make the trip up.

        Hung Lung...at least in Asia is translated as Red Arowana...but Chinese names of fish are very misleading and they often find different substitutes in the USA. My most vivid memory of having Hung Lung in SF was at KL Restaurant...also known as Gum San Ah Yee Leng Tong quite some time ago. Really tasty supple but not too firm flesh fish...almost like having a wonderfully braised/stewed Japanese alfosino (kinmedai) or kinki. I may have had it again a few years back at Asian Pearl Millbrae.

        2 Replies
        1. re: K K

          Thanks for the tips. Sun Fat looks promising (though most reviews seem to gravitate on the oyster selection), and on my occasional jaunts to Chinatown, the wet markets on Stockton have had some interesting things too. Just wish it were a bit closer. :)

          1. re: Jon914

            Yeah don't rule out the other mid to large sized supermarkets in Sunset, Richmond (Clement, like New May Wah), and maybe along the Mission (in and around Sun Fat).

            Sounds like the other choices to explore closer to you are the Vietnamese supermarkets in San Jose area which I suspect might not have what you need, and maybe the Korean supermarkets in Santa Clara...but having been inside a couple, at best you can find live octopus, live halibut (some imported from Jeju Island Korea), farmed live small abalone, and monkfish on ice...not quite the exotic you are looking for, unless you are going to make a spicy Korean stew at home.

        2. I'm interested in finding this out as well. The quality of fish at 99 Ranch is pretty poor (at least at the one near where I live in Foster City). Would be nice if there was a higher quality but not necessarily ridiculous expensive mid-range option for fish anywhere on the Peninsula/South Bay.

          4 Replies
          1. re: mliew

            Oddly enough I have purchased amazingly fresh fish at FC Costco (and even cheaper than 99 Ranch sometimes), but of course it is not live and there is the quantity issue.
            In addition there is no hope of any fish other than the standard ones.
            I too wish there was someplace that wasn't too expensive (like Fish Market) and had decent quality.

            1. re: mliew

              Not sure if you're referring to live or dead, but on both counts, Ranch has been iffy to downright nasty.

              On multiple occasions for the "dead" fish, they have a habit of freezing fish, then defrosting and then re-freezing, which leads to pasty, inedible mush.

              Even for the live stuff, I've found that some of the farmed live fish can have weird motor/gasoline aftertaste. I stopped buying because of that.

              Nowadays, I grab dead fish from Japanese markets like Nijiya (black cod, salmon, hamachi / buri) or grab something from Whole Foods when it's on sale. The Japanese stuff is usually impeccably fresh (almost sushi-like), but comes out to around $10- $15 a pound. They cut it into 5 oz. portions (kirimi) you often see at restaurants, and they turn out great if marinated in white miso and quickly seared on a pan.

              1. re: Jon914

                Marina Foods San Mateo isn't any better. Ever look around the left side and see the frogs in the murky tank? They'll explicitly state that they cannot sell live frogs. But once in a while you'll see some interesting exotic fish in the tank...think I saw either coral or sesame grouper once, and some giant fish that would take an industrial kitchen to steam.

                For lobsters and crab, the better option is to pay a bit more and get it from New England Lobster for those in the Peninsula (now in Burlingame), truly restaurant quality and great for home consumption. There's also Peninsula / All Shores Seafood in San Bruno for crab and lobster.

                For stuff like a wild salmon filet (or even head and belly strips), Mission Fresh Fish and their various outlets, sell at many farmers markets. Great for baking, grilling, maybe steaming, and the typical miso soup hotpots. You can get halibut, scallops, and a few other things. It's "fresh on ice" but at least tastier than the dubious supermarkets.

                1. re: Jon914

                  Iffy to downright nasty is exactly right. I'm not surprised they are refreezing the fish based on the texture and flavor. Couple times I bought fish there in the evening to cook the next day and by that time the smell was so awful I had to throw it out. I won't buy fish from 99 Ranch anymore.

              2. I accompanied a friend to this market for the first time a few weeks back. I was blown away with their fish selection. There are several locations around the S. Bay Area.


                1 Reply
                1. re: letsindulge

                  I went to the Milpitas location. I believe it was the "newest" of the locations if that means anything.

                2. Just for an updated data point, I was in the Clement area this late afternoon, and poked my head into two Chinese seafood specialty shops, plus the famous New May Wah supermarket. Nothing remarkable in the live tanks (the run of the mill stuff you already described in the original post).

                  The only thing of interest were live wild Atlantic razor clams and periwinkles at New May Wah.

                  Not sure if this is "red dragon" but Koi Palace had a large number of them in the tanks a week ago

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: K K

                    Yep, those are the fish I'm after. Do you recall what price they were asking? I saw them at Joy Luck Palace for $28/lb a week ago, but they looked half dead there (upside down, not really moving, slightly cloudy eyes), so I passed.

                    I love razor clams (doe-heen)! Thanks for mentioning them.

                    1. re: Jon914

                      Sorry didn't ask, but chances are JLP is probably cheaper than Koi Palace. There were a few looking very tired and one or two dead/upside down at Koi, and I suspect they have very low survival rate outside the ocean. Perhaps this explains their abundance dead / "fresh on ice" at the Clement and Irving supermarkets.

                      The fish's real/scientific name is Sebastolobus alascanus, also known as Channel Rockfish, Idiotfish, shortspine thornyhead. I've seen portions of kinki (a fish native to Hokkaido for the ones consumed in Japan, also a type of rockfish) packaged and sold in Nijiya Mountain View and I believe they labeled it as idiotfish (could be a substitute variety). Absolutely delicious steamed or in the JP version, simmered (like a stew).

                      Sunset Super on Irving today (Sunday) had no exotic fish of interest either swimming in their tanks. Just the usual black bass, crab, lobster, tilapia. Cabazon I would put in the exotic category...

                      1. re: Jon914

                        Hi again, Jon. I go to the Joy Luck Palace, too, and they mainly serve up the seafood. Their dim sum is good, so it's worth it to go there. Attached through the back (past the fish tanks) is their smaller restaurant that serves every imaginable soup and also peking duck.

                    2. Jon, Definitely go to the Marina, Stevens Creek Road, Cupertino. Great selection of live fish and seafood. I think you'll like it. You can even pick out your own swimming fish, they'll net it for you, whack it in the head with a baseball bat (looks like one), and clean it right there for you. For an extra charge, they'll even flash fry it for you in front of your eyes. There are so many live creatures in the seafood section at the Marina that one of my kids teachers took the whole biology class there. Their Monterey Spot Prawns are beautiful, all alive, and you catch them yourself. When they see the net coming, they play dead, so don't be fooled. I've even seen live frogs there at different times of the year (not personally interested). You will find plenty of live & fresh fish & shellfish there, even live lobsters. What a place!!!! Good luck.