Going to the fish market has been on my list of things to do since we arrived in Shanghai so when my neighbour Scott mentioned back in June that not only does he go on a regular basis but he also knows where to eat there too I invited myself along the next time he was going.
Between the mass expat exodus in July and the searing heat of August our little outing didn’t happen until last week. Which in hindsight is a massive disappointment because now I know what I’ve been missing out on all these months and I’m just a little bit upset with myself for not getting there sooner.
Our little gang included fellow tai tai’s Liz & Diane. And Scott. You can’t miss him – he was the tallest man in the market.
As soon as we jumped out of the car we were face to face with all manner of sea creatures – many familiar, some not so.
The market covers about 3 blocks along Tongchuan Lu and there are covered markets on either side of the road to explore too. You are probably looking at well over 300 stalls believe it or not. As with most specialised shopping strips here all selling the same thing (i.e the hair & beauty strip, the bath strip, the hardware strip etc) there isn’t much to differentiate the stalls apart from the friendliness of the owners and whether they are willing to engage with you. If they take the mickey out of you I think it’s worth buying something from them don’t you?
The water in all the tanks looked clean and the seafood lively enough – I’m not sure how else to judge the relative merits of a fish market. The pavements are slippery and it’s a working market open 24 hours a day not a tourist trap so you are always going to be in someone’s way.
We weren’t just here to look though – we were here for lunch. The beauty of this market is you can buy whatever you want and take it straight to a restaurant to be cooked for you. All the prices are by the jin or half a kilo and of course you can barter with the stall holder if you want to – to be honest the prices were so cheap we didn’t bother.
Yes of course the hygiene leaves a little to be desired sometimes. Oh wait – you’re not looking at the salmon lying on the pavement?
Oh those things up there on the right? They’d be geoducks which apparently are pronounced goo-ey-ducks. There’s a list of things I’ve managed to avoid in my 45 years on this planet and they are right up there. Along with free falling out of a plane at 30,000ft. I’d seen them many times in Tsukiji but never had any inclination to eat one. Until Scott came along and told us it was interesting eating – the ‘snout’ part is cut up for sashimi and then the clam under the shell is cooked in a soup. Liz and I looked at each other and thought what the hell let’s just do it.
And of course the guy who picked one up, put it next to his crotch and squeezed the water out of the geoduck got the sale.
A jin of these critters was less than 40RMB/ $7. They look like yabbies but the shells were harder to peel. The US contingent called them sea cockroaches. Any ideas?
We also got a jin of pipis, a calamari and a live fish of some description or other.
We went to the New Kowloon Tang restaurant which handily sits above a shop full of fish tanks. Look out for the red carpet with Welcome in huge yellow writing. There are lots of restaurants though and I would expect the same routine and menu in all of them.
You hand over your purchases which are weighed as the restaurant charges you by the jin. The lady at the scales has a quick look inside the bag and tells you how it’s going to be cooked. You shrug, smile and say OK and make out as if you completely understand when in reality you are clueless about what you are about to receive.
The geoduck sashimi was pleasantly non-rubbery and actually tender. Now it’s ticked off the list of thingsIneverrealisedIhadtoeatbeforeIdie I wouldn’t order it again unless there was a visitor in town. The soup was a bit meh and tasted of what I imagine turtle soup would taste like if you know what I mean.
We all agreed the yabbie like critters were the star of the show stir fried & crispy in salt & pepper with ginger & spring onions. The pipis were cooked the same way. The fish came in a sweet & sour sauce and was exactly like the one we had in Hangzhou but this one was much better. Scott said he was given 3 price options for the fish and went with the middle one and we got this – in case you need to know how to ask for it.
With rice, drinks and a vegetable dish plus the cost of the actual seafood itself from the market the cost per person was 200RMB/ $35. Not too shabby I think you will agree.
It was a great experience and now I know where it is and what to do we are going to go again on a weekend so the hardworking menfolk can get to enjoy it too. Prawns, razor clams and crabs will be on the shopping list I think and maybe a few scallops too.
In the wash up:
What’s good: Fresh seafood from all around the world. Wander around, don’t be shy – it’s a great opportunity to try out new things at cheap prices.
What’s not so great: Wear trainers or wellies – it’s a working market and you are in the way.
Where: Tongchuan Lu near Caoyang Lu, open 24 hours.