22 February 2019
An annual fishing moratorium in the South China Sea came to an end in mid-August, beefing up supply of seafood in Hong Kong. Photo: Xinhua
An annual fishing moratorium in the South China Sea came to an end in mid-August, beefing up supply of seafood in Hong Kong. Photo: Xinhua

Disappointments and surprises in a famed wet market

Last Saturday, I went to the Ap Lei Chau Market and witnessed a festive holiday atmosphere there, with abundant fish supplies and crowds of shoppers.

The reason behind the activity and the renewed buzz was this: an annual fishing moratorium in the South China Sea had ended on August 16, paving way for fresh seafood supplies.

Fishmongers extended their stores into the corridors of the market, displaying a variety of offerings.

Thanks to the new MTR South Island Line, people can now find the famous seafood market more readily accessible.

Though the supply was sufficient, the standard of the fish was not so impressive when I made the trip.

A fishmonger couple who normally sells high-quality marine fish were presenting only some “trash” that day — fish that is not too good to eat.

Among all the stuff on offer, only some small tiger grouper and a yellowfin seabream managed to hold my attention.

I couldn’t help but ask the female owner as to why there was so little of the best on offer. She said frankly that one shouldn’t expect a great deal of nice wild catches in the first place.

Morwongs and sea chubs that we find in the market are no longer wild but are actually raised in fish farms, she added.

Yes, I agree. I have decided not to buy morwongs any more as they were tasteless when I tried them in the recent past. The fish is definitely not worth HK$600 a catty.

The fish used to be rare earlier but now they seem to fill up tanks of Chiuchow restaurants in the city. Where could they possibly come from?

The fish-shop owner advised me to pick female mud crabs, but they too would have probably been raised in a farm.

I do love giant mud crabs, but it is not too easy to have wild ones. The big ones usually come from the Philippines or Vietnam while the small ones are from Zhuhai, China. It is not difficult to differentiate when you look at the grass strands. 

To me, those worthy of trying out are the small ones with both claws tied by plastic strand. They are wild ones from Taishan and priced at HK$280 per catty. Many high-end Chinese restaurants are also cooking this kind of small shellfish.

My personal top choice would be the quality ones from Lau Fau Shan, where they would be harvested on the eighth month on the Chinese lunar calendar. I am really keen on getting my hands on such crabs.

In short, on that trip to the Ap Lei Chau Market, the marine shrimps and prawns were much more attractive, compared to the fish.

I would say Hong Kong is still a good place for wild seafood but it takes time and experience to pick genuine-quality stuff.

Don’t go by the word of the fishmongers. Over the years, I have found very few truly honest sellers, who reveal the exact provenance of the catch.

The husband-wife duo I mentioned in the article are among the vanishing breed.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 21

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Supply of mud crab is abundant, yet truly tasty wild crabs are now difficult to find. Photo: Internet

HKEJ columnist; art, culture and food critic

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