After enjoying a red bean iced milk tea in the cooked food center at the Kowloon City Municipal Services Building, how could I not take a stroll round the wet market?
When I was about to enter the alley of fish stalls, I overheard somebody remark, “Gosh, that expensive!”
I turned around and found a tray of stonefish — lively and of average palm size. The price tag said HK$240 (US$30.90) per catty.
Some time ago, the much smaller stonefish at the Wan Chai market cost me HK$260 per catty, but I didn’t think twice then and helped myself to 1.5 catties of the fish.
The offering at Kowloon City was not pricey at all, especially if you know that the fish normally costs at least HK$300 per catty.
In my modest calculation, homemade stonefish soup with some other ingredients for a family of three should cost more than HK$400 a pot.
Anyway, it is not the number that matters.
Stonefish is an absolute rarity in the market nowadays.
The soup is extremely beneficial to women who have just given birth, to restore their strength and boost milk production for the newborn baby.
Celebrity moms like Cathy Tsui Chi-kei — wife of tycoon Lee Shau-kee’s son Martin Lee Ka-shing — and Canto-pop singer Miriam Yeung Chin-wah have been known to eat stonefish soup during the first month after giving birth.
I have long been hankering for this soup — obviously not for this purpose but for its supreme umami and sweet taste.
Meanwhile, what alternatives should you look for if you are not lucky enough to see a stonefish in the market?
Marbled rockfish is a close relative of stonefish, but a small one costs nearly HK$100 per catty.
The more value-for-money options are golden threadfin bream and red bigeye, which are at most HK$20 a catty.
The umami taste is not as strong as that of the stonefish, but they make a fairly good soup base for noodles.
The no-more-than-5-centimeter-long cardinal fish is around HK$20-HK$30 a catty.
You might consider paying HK$5 more to the fishmonger to help remove the intestines for you, and yet it will still take you a long time to wash the scales off the super tiny fish.
It is worth doing, as the soup is super tasty.
Crucian carp soup with watercress, goji and daikon radish is also a delicious treat. Be careful — the fish has a lot of bones.
In the past 10 years, the quality of the fish has been less impressive. Its meat is usually tasteless after the soup is made.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 8.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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