MAKE A SEAFOOD PURCHASE IN AN ASIAN GROCERY STORE!
Asian grocery stores can have some of the best seafood available, and their variety is often incredible. There is no better way for the seafood novice to start sampling new fish than to go into an Asian grocery and play fish roulette. When I first started trying to branch out and try new fish, I discovered one of these stores near my house that sells over 30 species of fish all the time. I made a commitment to try them all. In one summer, I got through all their standard offerings. Then I found another Asian grocery. Guess what?? Totally new set of fish. So, I plowed through all those offerings as well. Now I like to go there with no meal plan in mind and just pick the freshest, prettiest fish I can find. Sometimes, I get carried away and buy four kinds of fish. That created a family tradition during the summer called "Four Fish Friday". The kids then tried to push me to do Six Fish Saturday and Seven Fish Sunday, which got totally out of hand. Maybe Two Fish Tuesday is the right answer.
Be prepared for a few potential setbacks. These places can be a little intimidating at first, but they don’t have to be. One source of discomfort with these stores, for the average American consumer is that in general, we are uncomfortable with buying whole fish. Many of us are uncomfortable with looking our food in the eye before we eat it. So, if you can’t get over that, maybe this one is going to be tough for you. Do it anyway. They will generally prepare the fish anyway you like it. They can fillet it, steak it, scale it and gut it. They might even deep fry it for you and then you can eat it on the way to the car. It might be uncomfortable to face the fact that your food was once a pretty fish in the sea, since we Americans generally try to separate the food from the animal, but the variety and freshness is worth the discomfort.
Another thing that can make these markets uncomfortable is that culturally, they have different ideas about customer service. Depending on where you live, English speakers may be hard to come by, and you may feel unwelcome. That is probably just in your head. Don’t be intimidated and follow the lead of the other customers. You may have to be a little loud and forceful to get the attention of the people behind the seafood counter. If you don’t speak their language, you may have to point and gesture more than talk.
Many of these stores sell live fish in tanks. They also sell live clams, oysters, crabs, snails, urchins, and conch. With such an abundance of these, you may encounter some unfamiliar smells (to say the least!). This should not deter you. The fish can often be extremely fresh and beautiful. You should focus on how clean the fish are and how lively they appear. If the fish you are buying doesn’t smell bad, then you are OK.
There may be some fish in the case that are not of a good quality and you need to be able to recognize these. I have encountered some pretty terrible looking fish in my local Asian markets. These markets often try to sell fish until the last possible day that they are salvageable. So, they have the best and the worst fish you can find, side by side. Review my segment about choosing high quality fish and make sure you are prepared to separate the good from the bad. As long as you can do that, it is worth stepping outside of your comfort zone.
I hope that presenting you with a few possible problems that you may encounter serves as a guide and not a deterrent. I want you to be encouraged to visit these stores, as they are an outstanding source of variety. I offer the caveats only so that you won’t chicken out as soon as you arrive. Enjoy this adventure and enjoy some high quality new fish. Maybe even go way outside your comfort zone and pick up a geoduck or a sack of snails. You never know what delicacies await you in these markets.