Early Monday I was at the Wan Chai Market again.
I usually make it a point to first visit my favorite vendor’s supply of fresh local fish. His stall never ceases to amaze me.
“What’s this?” I asked, gazing unblinkingly at the energetic fish flapping inside a big bucket.
“Yellow croaker,” the fishmonger replied cheerfully.
“Wild yellow croaker?” the housewife behind me asked. She couldn’t believe her eyes either.
“Of course,” the vendor said proudly.
“Where does it come from?” I asked, unable to hide my curiosity.
“In the waters near Cheung Chau,” he answered patiently.
It took me just a second to decide to buy it.
But as he slapped the fish on the chopping board the next second, I realized I hadn’t asked how much a catty was. Anyway, it was a priceless gem so I would be willing to pay no matter what the cost.
“Here you are, HK$50,” the fishmonger said plainly.
Was I in luck! Can you believe a 12-inch wild yellow croaker costs only HK$50? Last month I bought a few frozen ones from a store nearby for HK$60.
Now that the yellow croaker is in season, the price itself could whet your appetite. That’s the wet market economy.
The vendor is such an honest man. But if I were him, I would sell high. After all, you don’t easily find wild yellow croaker nowadays.
I told an old fisherman that I finally got a taste of fresh wild yellow croaker.
He first teased me about my ignorance, but later he admitted that it’s really getting hard to find wild marine creatures nowadays.
“Fishing used to be a very easy task with so many varieties of fish available in Hong Kong waters. I didn’t have to go very far.”
Yellow croakers, fourfinger threadfins, yellowfin seabreams and oriental soles were abundant decades ago. But today, a fisherman can consider himself immensely fortunate if he catches eight or ten of them in one shot.
“People say yellow croakers die as soon as they the leave water, is that true?” I asked my friend.
He explained that yellow croakers and fourfinger threadfins do in fact have a very short lifespan, so fishermen have to race against the clock by going out to sea at night, keeping the fish in the tank and rushing back before dawn to sell them in the market.
The early bird catches the worm. Lucky me, I’m an early riser. That means I can always look forward to fresh, delicious fish which are getting rare.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 2.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
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