When it comes to eating fish in season, there is a Cantonese proverb that says “spring for bream, autumn for carp, summer for shad”.
Now as it is already early summer, eating shad is a smart choice.
Shad, also called “sam lai” in Cantonese, tends to be found near the estuaries of the Yangtze River and Pearl River, where they normally lay eggs in April and May.
Its meat is fresh and oily, making it not only delicious but also highly nutritious.
Shunde, a district in the city of Foshan in Guangdong province, used to be known for the clusters of shad in early summer every year, but it is now difficult to catch wild shad there because of environmental pollution and overfishing.
As a result, shad served in restaurants is now mostly imported from Indonesia, Vietnam or Malaysia, although it is said that some people in Shunde have successfully bred shad in fish farms, selling for about US$200 per catty.
Cooking shad demands skill. It is better to cook it with scales on so that its unique scent that comes from its fat can be kept inside.
There are several ways to cook shad. One is to just boil it in salt water. The other is to spread cooking oil and salt on the shad, and then steam it along with some shredded ginger.
I prefer to stew it with black bean sauce and bitter melon, with the taste of the latter being the perfect match with that of shad.
There have been many things said in praise of shad by some men of letters in Chinese history, such as the famous poet Su Dong-po, who marvelled at its extraordinarily delicious taste.
Eileen Chang, one of the most influential modern Chinese writers, once said there are three major regrets in her life and the fact that a shad has too many fish bones is one of them.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 16.
Translation by Taka Liu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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