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May 4, 2013 06:37 AM

best fish to eat

Going to Hong Kong soon, and looking to see what what are the best kinds of fish (i.e. Pacific Garoupa, Pink Garoupa, Star Garoupa, Tiger Garoupa, So Mei) to eat (particularly steamed fish Cantonese style with soy sauce and scallions but some fish are better with other preparations good to hear that as well).

There will be three of us for most meals (and expect we will generally be ordering lots of different things), but I have no problem ordering a fish that is too large if it is better tasting then the right sized fish or fishes. Also, read that some fishes can cost thousands of dollars, I'd probably be unwilling to spend over 3000 HKD (of course, if it was really that much better than the cheaper varieties, I might give in). :)

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  1. For the best fish & seafood experience in Hong Kong, head out to the 'Aberdeen Seafood Wholesale Market' Canteen. Make your reservation and ask the chef/owner to recommend the 'catch of the day' for you. The fish can be any type of wild, line caught Garoupas, Sea Breams, Sea Bass, Snappers, Thread Fin, So Mei, Parrot Fish...etc. For $3000 on fish alone, you will be 'information overload' on the choices you can get. ( expect to pay double that if you eat at restaurants in town ). Beside the fish, DO NOT FORGET about the Wild Sea Prawns and 'Abalone in Peppered Salt' - Out of this world good!!!!!!

    Here are some reviews for you to read including my experience this March and fellow chowhounder e_ting's write up:

    BTW, the restaurant is scheduled to close this August. So this will be the chance of a lifetime!!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Charles Yu

      Love seafood even more than I love fish, so Abalone in Peppered Salt and Wild Sea Prawns will definitely be on the menu. :)

      Fish as you mention above has the highest degree of 'information overload' for me (will look for "Camouflage Grouper").

    2. Here are a few things to keep in mind about seafood in Hong Kong.

      If you have money, you can likely eat whatever you want. Expensive high end seafood restaurants will have maybe a few exotic deep sea fish available in their tanks. If you are really lucky, there will be a wild deep sea humpback grouper at the Forum....but unless you are a CEO/VP executive or celebrity, won big at the horse race or jackpotted the Mark 6/lottery top prize, it is out of reach for most people just based on the price tag. You might find slightly cheaper varieties of grouper at the less expensive seafood restaurants, but even then you are subject entirely to restaurant pricing.

      Other places to eat seafood in Hong Kong are Lau Fau Shan (NW of Yuen Long, about 30 mins by public transport) which is a great place to visit even for locals. Lei Yu Moon is another. Sai Kung is more foreign visitor friendly, but a tad touristy.

      Aberdeen Wholesale Fish Market Canteen is probably the best of the lot, particularly the value, the variety...but unless you have connections and are a regular at the canteent, it is difficult even to get into the wholesale area to select the fish you want. A very small setback, since everything is fresh and in season.

      There is definitely a lot of information about HK seafood, but it really does help to know what is local and in season (vs imported seafood, or those caught off South China Seas), and knowing what is wild vs farmed, as well as best methods to prep.

      For something more pedestrian, right across the other side of the island (a short sampan ride away) is Ap Lei Chau. There is a wet market building owned by the city government, and maybe upwards of 6 to 8 seafood vendors selling fish (on ice), live and kicking seafood of many varieties. Buy what you want, and you can take it upstairs to the cooked food center, where you can have a few vendors of your choice (depending on their operating hours) cook the seafood for you, any way you want (or have them suggest). While the chances of finding a premium or secondary grade specimen of a sought after deep sea fish is smaller, one can still enjoy a feast of epic proportions at a very affordable price.

      For southern Hong Kong (and seafood caught off those coastal waters), there at least:

      - 8 to 10 varieties of prawns/shrimp. Certain ones are more in season that others. Japanese King Prawn / 九節蝦 is more commonly found in Lau Fau Shan area, but sometimes shows up in Aberdeen/Ap Lei Chau. Each has a unique flavor and taste, but many are insanely naturally sweet and delicious after steaming or boiling.

      - local lobster (maybe 2 to 3 kinds) no claws. There are two kinds of shellfish that are downright fugly and are shaped like giant insects, for some reason categorized as lobsters.

      - at least 7 kinds of local crabs. The more common ones are "flower" crab 花蟹 (sometimes called blue crab but that's not their color), of which the large ones are pretty expensive (over US$100 easy at restaurants) and a favorite of this board for the most intense flavor. Perfect for Chiu Chow cold style prep, or egg white steamed with huadiao liquor. Small mud crabs 奄仔蟹 are more often found in Lau Fau Shan, but sometimes are caught off southern HK waters...when in season their rich roe is a much cheaper alternative to Shanghai hairy/mitten crab. Cholestrol city too of course.

      Clams/shellfish category: Too many too list, sooo many good ones to try. There are probably upwards of 4 ish varieties of abalone (but may not be all available at once). Either way doesn't matter...just try fresh ones. Either steamed, steamed with citrus peel, or salt and pepper fried (which is actually steamed first before deep frying), but the S&P version only a few vendors can do very well...stick with Aberdeen Wholesale Market Canteen. Definitely try Spiral Babylon 東風螺 (some say conch, some say sea snail which it resembles more). A true delight. 花蛤 ("Common Basket Lucina") or "Sea Melon-seed" is a type of clam with light orange flesh and a red valve. Steamed with saltwater, ginger, scallion, and bean thread vermicelli, is my absolute favorite way to go at Ap Lei Chau. Baby geoduck, razor clams are all quite awesome.

      Fish: Devastingly overwhelming but in a good way. From the cheap to the ridiculous (but affordable). It will take several meals to try everything

      Bombay duck (九肚魚/nine stomach fish) - salt and pepper fried is the easiest way to go here. Downright fugly looking fish. But delicious

      大眼雞 (Big eye) - this is a smaller fish with big red eyes. A favorite of Chiu Chow restaurants to cook then serve cold. Or better yet, just have it pan fried with ginger and scallion, then boiled into a quick soup. Super delicious. Easier to find on ice at Ap Lei Chau market than swimming though.

      There is a hybrid breed of fish called 沙巴龍躉 (Sa ba Long Dung) which I have not had, but have seen it alive at the markets. Apparently bred with a male 花尾躉 (flower tail "sturgeon?")and a female 老虎斑 ("tiger grouper").

      Definitely don't miss the saltwater steamed prep Fourfinger threadfin 馬友 (Ma Yau) that Charles already mentioned.

      Garoupas/Groupers....this is the short list of what's somewhat local or available (depending on supply and season)

      黃皮老虎斑 brown marbled grouper
      老鼠斑 Humpback Grouper (mostly farmed, deep sea wild ones are rare and very very expensive)
      蘇鼠斑 Coral Grouper (So Shue Ban) - a cousin of humpback grouper, maybe 2 catties max. Good for steaming
      金錢斑 Honeycomb grouper
      東星斑 Leopard Coral Trout (not a local fish, but could be from Philippines or Malaysia, sold in the fish markets wholesale and retail at times)
      瓜子斑 Melon seed grouper. There is a red variant of this fish too, 紅瓜子斑 or Melon Seed Red Grouper.
      海油斑 Comet Grouper
      藍星斑 - Blue Dot Grouper

      14 Replies
      1. re: K K

        wow -- awesome tips.

        >> If you are really lucky, there will be a wild deep sea
        >> humpback grouper at the Forum ... the price tag.

        by "the Forum" do you mean Ah Yat Forum? Or somewhere else?

        Do you know a ball-park price for a top-end fish like this? $300usd? $3000usd? more? less? How many people would it serve? -- i'm just curious.

        Also, do you have a recommendation for a book or website for further reading on this topic (hong kong seafood)? i'm interested but know very little.

        last trip i tried "flower" crab (花蟹) at sheung hing, and smoked yellow croaker (煙薰黃魚) at tin heung lau, and loved them both, but suspect i've just scratched the surface of what's available.

        1. re: K K

          Nice detail write up K.K. Or shall I call you 'Professor KK' from now on?! Ha!!

          Anyways, just like to add the following:

          'Wholesale market price' for Flower Crab ( based on info provided by Chef Lai, ( Owner/Chef of On Lot 10, an avid fisherman ) during our chowmeet in March is now around HK$400 per Catty. An 'average' 2 catty one will set you back at least HK$1600 retail, that is, eaten in a restaurant! Aberdeen Wholesale market still charges around wholesale!!

          When I was at Aberdeen Market in March, I have no problem getting in and walking around. However, unlike some of the more touristy place eluded to above, the ground inside the market ground, where the stalls are, can get VERY WET! As such, if one's decision is to try out Aberdeen Wholesale, for the fish, I'll go 'Omakase'! On the phone, inform the management of the preference and way of preparation, price range and the type and texture of fish you like and let them do the rest. Thread Fin, So Mei to Garoupa can have widely different texture from soft and delicate to chewy and meaty.! Personally, for example, I prefer sauteing filet of a giant Warsaw Garoupa ( Long Dun ) with yellowing chives over a steamed smallish Garoupa with scallions, ginger.and top soya sauce.
          When we were there, this huge Big Eye Japanese Kinki type fish was a special catch of the day for another table!!

          By the way,if special circumstances dedict your party to eat 'in town'. Rather than heading over to the Forum or Fook Lam Moon, who will kill you with price premiums, my favourite 'seafood' go to place is the 1* Xin Dau Ji in the Jordan district. The owner personally seek out seafood and fish from fish market each day and placed the the latter in one of the biggest restaurant fish tank in town. BTW, their roasted suckling piglet is pretty damn good as well!!! You can actually watch them b-b-q the piglet through a window!!

          1. re: Charles Yu

            >> On the phone, inform the management of the preference and way of preparation, price range and the type and texture of fish you like and let them do the rest.

            How far ahead would you recommend phoning / reserving? a couple days? a week? a month?


            1. re: Dustin_E

              For lunch during the weekdays, a week notice should be ample. However, now that words have gotten out that they will be closing, may be things might get real busy for them?!
              Wild caught Hump Back Garoupa at the Forum? Heard its around HK$ 20,000.(US$2500)

              1. re: Charles Yu

                Eeeek, $20k!

                Some think that the "best" fish is those rare or high end deep sea specimens, and that is totally understandable. But there is also a category called 雜魚 (mixed fish) that has equal passion by some locals and foodies, I suppose you can say is peasant style seafood (or fishermen food), that can be equally as enjoyable, though I am sure some don't really taste that good. The trick is to really dive in and explore. The best source of information is actually talking to the seafood market vendors and the fishermen themselves, they know the best and most efficient way to prep certain cheaper lower end of the spectrum fish or the restaurants that provide them. Might not be everyone's cup of tea, but despite some looking very cheap and unworthy, or filled with bones, can be pretty intense in flavor.

                Lai Mang (rabbitfish) 泥鯭 falls in this category, but due to depleting wild supplies, this is not easy to find. Great with congee or if really fresh, just steam it with saltwater and oil.

                紅壇魚 Trypauchen - This looks like a bloody red worm, another fugly looker...but some fishermen like to steam this with black bean sauce. But it can also be good in soup.

                石九公 (rockfish) - we call it Cabazon in the SF Bay Area but that's $20 to $30 a pound. It's cheaper in HK, and sometimes used as a substitute (or sold as a counterfeit) to 石祟魚 (smallmouth scorpionfish), both of these are fish local to southern HK waters. Fishermen like rockfish steamed with scallion and ginger, and just like in SF Bay Area, also great to use in fish soups.

                牛鰍魚 (Crocodile Flathead) - another species native to southern HK waters. This one likes to burrow itself under the ocean floor or in muddy areas. Thick flesh, large bones. More ideal if made into a soup.

                This is just scratching the surface....there are too many lesser known varieties of these not so famous not so interesting but are wild nonetheless fish.

                1. re: K K

                  Do you know ball-park price ranges for any other rare or high end deep sea specimens? perhaps ones priced a bit less than $20k ? :-)

                  I'm also curious what the comparison in prices for high-end fish between US and hong kong would be like. Say what would be the highest-end fish i could get at Yum's bistro or Koi Palace in the bay area. Would the same fish be the same price in hong kong? Or is there simply not a market for these high end fish in the US?

                  1. re: Dustin_E

                    Sorry I don't. I'm not even brave enough to even try whatever is in the tank at restaurants like The least my wallet is not). But I'll gladly venture into Sushi Ta-Ke, Sushi Sa-se and spend 10% of that humpback grouper trust fund on a dinner!

                    Yum runs his own restaurant, it's a bistro, not part of a corporate or conglomerate that can invest $$$$ in sea livestock. So the majority of the fish likely come from smaller channels (I know the crab/lobsters usually come from Oakland Chinatown area, because you know there's nothing beyond 99 Ranch in Fremont). This is in stark contrast to Koi Palace who has a giant war chest to purchase what they think their high paying customers want.

                    The market for high end expensive fish for Cantonese style steaming is not that great in SF Bay Area, and is harder when there isn't anything local or within North America west/nw coast that warrants that high price tag with the kind of quality to match. SF Bay Area Canto and Southern Chinese expats in general prefer anything seasonal, fresh/alive, local, and more importantly quality for the price. There simply isn't a whole lot of variety for Cantonese restaurants to work with beyond the run of the mill, and even some seasonal fish cannot be kept for long, like red dragon 紅龍 (channel rockfish/spiney thornhead/red codfish/red rockfish) which seems to like to fall into a coma a lot in the restaurant tanks (meaning they have low survival rate once scooped up from the sea) ...but has a big ugly yet delicious head, and supple flesh for steaming.

                    Also, even if you see "coral grouper" "mouse grouper" "tiger grouper" in Chinese on some white board in some Northern California Cantonese restaurant, I'm 99% sure it's not even a remote equivalent to the kinds in HK, let alone a long lost distant cousin (or a deadbeat pretending to be a relative)

                    Vancouver and Toronto, that is a different ballpark and demographic altogether.

                    1. re: K K

                      Here in Toronto. the current 'in thing' is steamed live French Turbot. When it comes to Garoupas, we either get them air freight from Florida or Hong Kong. We also have less exotic 'Roak fish/Garoupas' varietals from the BC Coast. The aforementioned ones are all suitable for steaming. Lastly, we also have large 'Yellow Fin Garoupa' which restaurants like to sauteed the fish filet and braised the tail segment with roast pork.
                      Attached photos were line caught 'Tiger Garoupa', 'Strawberry Garoupa' and 'Red Spotted Garoupa' from Florida, which I had during the past year. Around Can $40+ per fish, about 2 lbs+ in weight.

                2. re: Charles Yu

                  HKers can be pretty big-spenders when it comes to food.

                  The last time someone was charged US$1,000 (S$1,224) for a fish here in Singapore, it made the headlines:


                  1. re: klyeoh

                    Hahaha! The indignation of getting a run of the mill fish and swapped with a super upgrade! Kind of amusing to see the bill where there are 2 orders of Xiao long bao and an astronomically priced fish to balance it out.

                    The customer should have been lucky that the restaurant didn't end up upselling them a "unforgettable 忘不了" Empurau river fish, which is apparently more expensive than the Sultan fish!


                    1. re: K K

                      Well, the thing is: I had tried both the Sultan and the Empurau in KL before - not cheap, but at a fraction of the astronomical cost which Feng Shui Inn charged their hapless customer in Sentosa.
                      Believe you me - they are *not* worth the amounts charged for them, delicious though they may be :-D

                      1. re: klyeoh

                        Is it true either (or both) types of fish are forbidden to be exported? Somehow some make it out frozen/fresh on ice to other Asian cities where people who have a taste for these things will pay for it on the black or grey market.

                        1. re: K K

                          No, I didn't know of any ban. Or that they were endangered in any way.

              2. re: Charles Yu

                Photo of fish tank at entrance of XDJ