Posted by: fireweaver | December 15, 2009

aquarium + lunch

seafood in china, as far as i can tell, is always served extremely fresh.  there’s a story around the office that the first time our boss came out here, he leapt out of his chair screaming like a schoolgirl when presented with a bucket containing a live thrashing eel.  at various restaurants, buckets of fish or frogs have indeed been presented to the head of the table before arriving quite swiftly steamed & sauced.  Danny was flying home today, and Jacques and i are out later in the week, so we went out to a very nice seafood restaurant for lunch today.  these guys take it one step further than a single eel in a bucket.

the long boat restaurant had a half of a wooden fishing boat attached out front, and an assortment of fish tanks more extensive than any market i’ve ever been in.  arranged around a central space where workers were netting out various creatures were 2 tiers of tanks in a long rectangle.  everything was swimming in these tanks, from fish to lobsters to crabs and innumerable varieties of shellfish.  i’d never seen one of these creatures before, so that was of course what i wanted.

Jacques identified them as a type of mantis shrimp.  others in the species are known to invade aquariums as hitchhikers on coral, and have the ability to crack the tank glass with snaps of their powerful tails.  they were tricky to peel due to some sharp corners where the curving dorsal shell met the thinner ventral legs, and after we all attempted one, the waitstaff took them away and peeled them all for us.  hooray!  they are quite tasty, like very tender lobsters.  i would have preferred butter to the vinegary dipping sauce, but they were delightful plain.

probably my favorite dish of the afternoon was a small pot of very tiny long-necked clams (body and siphon each 1.5cm or so) that were cooked with ginger.  there were also some really excellent fried frog legs; a slightly sweet taste made me think they were done in coconut oil.  Jacques managed to find the one eel in the place (eel being his supreme favorite), and it arrived grilled  cut into 2-3 cm segments arranged spirally in a dish of savory sauce.

(this was just the end of him – no way i could keep Jacques from diving in before i’d snapped a pic of the whole presentation.)

another novel gastronomic experience was my first shot at bitter melon.  it’s tenderly crunchy and quite good until the end, when the sharp bitterness rears up.

a half a day later, i’m not yet super hungy for dinner.  while there was yet another embarrassingly full table today, all of the food is prepared in a very light, fresh manner (yes, even the fried frog) –  no heavy cream sauces, and all that seafood was lean.  i’m not yet missing burgers or fries.

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