Fish is eaten throughout the world wherever there is water. Fishing was one of the first skills mastered by our ancestor hunter-foragers, so the cooking of fish is an ancient art.
I have eaten fish in many places, from east to west, and I like the Chinese attitude toward fish best. It is disarmingly honest.
In Western countries, fish tends to be neatly filleted and deboned, so much so that the anonymous fillet can no longer be identified and you have to depend on the label to know what you are buying.
When I first went abroad as a teenage student, I suffered a sort of reverse culture shock when I was served fish in boarding school. I couldn’t believe that it was fish. All the delicious gelatinous parts around the head and tail were nowhere in sight and the tender belly bits which grandfather always reserved for me were missing.
Over time, I got used to the convenience of fish fillets, but then I started missing fish cakes, fish tofu, fish balls and fish crackers.
Over time again, I discovered these fish products in the nearest Chinatowns, and through frequent hotpot parties, I introduced my closest friends to the pleasure of eating fish products.
These are uniquely Chinese, I discovered. All over China, especially in the southern coastal regions, entire market stalls are devoted to these delicious delicacies made from pounded fish meat.
The fish paste is stuffed into vegetables like green chili peppers, slices of hollowed out bitter melon, aubergine sandwiches or sheets of steamed or deep-fried bean curd skin.
Or, the fish paste is molded in fat round globes the size of ping pong balls, shaped into patties, and steamed or shallow fried to help extend their shelf life.