do I eat...
|The vast majority of Chinese fish are
a bones nightmare - rather worse than the most evil
fresh (Unprocessed) kippers you can imagine. Expats
know this syndrome so well that even stalwart fish eaters
generally refrain from all fish dishes - they are only
atrocious because of the numerous small sharp bones.
The other big problem most westerners find is that the
fish is usually swimming around in a tank and you have
to go and choose which one you want to eat. Having got
passed this, you will then be presented with a whole
fish on a salver, complete with head, tail and all fins.
One Cantonese delicacy is 'Fish Heads Soup', which we
will list separately.
You love to eat fish, and China does offer some superb
fish - so what do you do or order?
Most common Chinese fish are farmed in ponds and are
a type of Carp. Forget about these, even if they are
2-feet long = bones nightmare. That has now decimated
your choices, so let's get rid of the other ghastly
fish while we are at it.
Eels are very common, highly praised by Chinese hosts
- but unless the size of the Titanic, a bones nightmare.
The small ones are inedible unless smoked.
Catfish are also very common, and again - even worse
for bones than the carp - forget about them also.
My good friend Jim say's it all about genes and fins,
so having got rid of the above you should be left with
some bream and other fish perhaps. There will not be
many, but they are very well worth fishing for. It seems
Bream may have a high dorsal fin running the length
of the body, or not. Carp have side fins behind the
head, which Bream do not.
The chances are that if the menu has any sea fish, then
these will probably only have the big bones westerners
are used to dealing with.
What to Order
1. 'Doh Bo' is a great fish, and
this name is known in Hong Kong and Tai Shan, Guangdong
Province. Excellent fish usually up to a foot long,
expensive, and tastes quite like Cod.
2. 'Gui Fa Yue' (Ghost flower fish) is the Mainland Cantonese chefs version of above, albeit a slightly different fish. These fish are common and a bit odd looking. They have a pronounced mouth with body curving above.
There is a tinge of green to their upper silver scales, and you would probably consider them to be slightly ugly. Don't let looks put you off - these are excellent!
3. Wong Fa Yue (Yellow Flower Fish)
[Wong = Huang in Mandarin] - because these fish have
a bright yellow underside = very easy to spot. From
a few inches long (Forget about these or use as Sardines)
to several feet in length, these fish as gorgeous! They
must be related to Sardines, as they have the same oily
texture with diluted taste. If you like Mackerel, then
you will die for these! They are in fact a type of Kingfish.
Given that I don't usually eat any Chinese fish - I
ate a whole 1-foot monster myself at one sitting! Superb!
So much so I would place this fish at number 4 on my
all-time fish wishlist (Turbot, fresh poached Salmon,
Cod [fish 'n chips], Wong Fa Yue, Sardines in that order).
These are a sea-fish and probably exclusive to the South
China Sea. They are freshly available along the shores
of Guangdong and Guangxi Provinces of China, and the
eastern coast of Vietnam; only. The main fishing port
related is on the south China coast of Guangdong - contact
us for details.
4. Most flatfish are edible, in the
sense that their bones are easy to deal with. There
is one exception, but foreigners will probably never
be offered this choice. Chinese 'lemon' sole is a good
option if you have no idea, and whilst it is not a Lemon
Sole, it is pretty close in virtually all respects.
5. There is another fish I recommend,
which is a freshwater fish. I have absolutely no idea
what it is called, but it is definitely a Bream - or
rather, not a Carp or Catfish. The one I had was about
20 inches long, as bought from an out of the way restaurant
on the Island in Gaogong (Jiu Jiang). It was selected
by our eminent host from the river tank alongside.
This was one mean and ugly looking fish! I know its
teeth would have removed several of my fingers or toes
in one bite, and it was similar in shape to a Pike.
It had a leopard style skin, with dapples of dark brown
based on a deep beige canvass.
I admit to trying this hesitatingly at first - but what
a lovely and tasty fish. No small bones, simple large
backbone, meat so tender I got stuck-in! Impression
- it reminded me very much of Haddock, as it had that
sectional 'white-meat-segments' thing going for it.
But the meat melted in my mouth, unlike most haddock
which generally requires some mastication.
Once you can get away from the normal freshwater farmed
fish (Carp versions), Guangdong offers a richness of
fish and seafood restaurants that is hard to parallel
- even in Countries like Spain.
We will devote a whole new section to seafood, for it
is so abundant and delicious hereabouts. In the meantime,
we hope we have given you some clues as to which fish
to order at Mainland Cantonese restaurants - and we
are sure this applies to virtually all of Greater China
This information is as supplied by ourselves, and ably
supported by our friends and various internet portals.