I should start by saying I am not a fan of eating fish. But I’m in the clear minority here in China. In almost every restaurant there is a tank, or small cooler filled with fish just waiting to be eaten, and every supermarket has a tank. In fact, when I tell Chinese people much of the fish served in normal (ie. cheap) restaurants are frozen, they consider is blasphemy. Actually, not even blasphemy, they just plain don’t understand because it is a totally foreign concept to them. Even the smallest, diviest restaurants here serve fresh fish.
When I was in Hong Kong I got a good look at the process of the final moments of a fish here in China. From the tank to the mouth. Here is this one little fish’s story.
The one picture I didn’t get was when the fish was still alive. My friend picked it out of a tank in the local supermarket, and the butcher grabbed it, killed it quickly and handed it to us in a clear bag with a bunch of spring onions.
Once home, it was put in the plate as the chef was preparing to cook it.
Then it was thrown in a pan, and cooked, or simmered, in a sauce with some vegs. Food is cooked fast in China and the same is true with fish. Then, it’s put on a plate and ready to serve.
Fish is almost always served whole and intact. And you just go at it with chopsticks, peeling away the flesh. But what about the bones, I hear you ask? Yeah, well that’s a problem. I mean, you try to avoid them, but they are so tiny it is hard not to occasionally eat one. When that happens it seems like everyone has their favorite “cure,” much like westerners and hiccoughs. Some people say you should eat rice, to push the bone down, other suggest drinking an apple vinegar drink to “dissolve” the bone. Either way, no one is too concerned about having a bone stuck in their throat as they know it will eventually work its way out.
As you can see, not an ounce is wasted. With a bigger fish half of it is picked clean, and then it is ceremoniously flipped over allowing everyone to get at the meat on the other side. You wll notice one thing, the head is still pretty much intact. Is that because they think it is gross and don’t want to eat it? Of course not. They are just saving the best for last. Eyeballs and all.
My friend ate the head, and I do have pictures, but I’ll save you from that gruesome sight and show you the fish at the end of the meal.
The final product is just some bones and a little piece of the tail. In some ways I find this totally repulsive, and in other ways I feel shame. I mean, in the west we waste so much. If we had a fish we would cut it all up, throw away a lot of the different parts, and just cook and eat the meaty center. I mean, what happens to all the fish heads in America? I’m sure some hearty chef’s cook it up in a stew or something for flavor, but I have a feeling most end up in “seafood flavor” dog food.
So while I could never do it myself, Chinese people, I salute you.