Tag Archives: swamp eel

Chinese fish dishes

After a little like a week with family and friends in China, the image gallery consists not so much of fish. We passed through some food departments in malls, including enjoying a fish burger at KFC in Hefei that was excellently spicy, said to be from pike, but was perhaps not a fish dish.

Chinese largemouth bass before
Photo: Sven O Kullander, CC-NC-BY

Chinese largemouth bass after
Photo: Sven O Kullander, CC-NC-BY

My brother in law, Cheng Hua, is an excellent cook, and he prepared both catfish (Pelteobagrus) and largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides). I had my first noodlefish soup (that I can remember) and also noodlefish (Salanx chinensis?) topping a light omelette, and oven-baked Siniperca, as well as deepfried Sillago; witness also the split-head big-head carp head (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis). Freshwater fish generally do not taste much, and especially cyprinids tend to be of loose consistency. The trick is to marinate and prepare the fish whole (gutted, and gill-arches removed).

Split-head big-head carp head under peppers
Photo: Sven O Kullander, CC-NC-BY

Noodlefish soup
Photo: Sven O Kullander, CC-NC-BY

Shark fins? No, I have memories of boxes of shark fins from earlier visits, but this time did not see any. Perhaps a good sign, but shark fins were never cheap. Shark fin soup is excellent treat, but nothing humanity cannot live without. Thick chicken soup is equally fine. Perhaps, if chicken were to have their wings and feet cut off and still living bodies thrown to rot on the ground, chicken soup might take up competition of delicacy – or not? There will never be any shark farms to produce shark fins for soup.

So, what fish were we eating in China then. Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) from North America, tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus, and O. aureus) from Africa, and pacu (Piaractus brachypomus) from South America, are very common. Traditional and new aquaculture species such as the bighead, silver, black, and grass carps (Hypopthalmichthys nobilis, H. molitrix, Mylopharyngodon piceus, Ctenopharyngodon idella), the common carp (Cyprinus haematopterus), the catfish Silurus asotus, swampeel (Monopterus albus) (a favored fish on this blog), and weatherfish (Misgurnus anguillicaudatus), are of course still common.

Swampeel by the dozen. Hefei food mall.
Photo: Sven O Kullander, CC-NC-BY

Chinese aquaculture strategy seems to be expand on cultured biodiversity rather than improving or adapting species already in culture. Not very different from the rest of the world, except that, interestingly, the rest of the world mostly did not have aquaculture traditions, and only one of the traditional Chinese aquaculture species has been globally adopted, i.e., the “common carp”. With the reservation that the carp cultivated in Europe is the local species Cyprinus carpio, whereas the Chinese redfin carp Cyprinus haematopterus is only almost the same. These two species have been dispersed worldwide by fisheries people totally ignorant of what species they have been dealing with.

Carp in a bucket. Yunnan 1995
Photo: Sven O Kullander. CC-BY-NC

But I have to admit, at home, frozen tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) imported from China, is a favorite dish. Tilapia is excellent meat. Is is not weird to eat, in Europe, African fish produced in China? And most weird of all: Why do the swedes, with all their water, eat aquaculture fish from the other side of Eurasia. When it comes to aquaculture, nothing makes sense.

Eel out swamp eel in

Consulting the source paper for the rectum-eating eel (Siu Fai Lo, Sin Hang Wong, Lok Sang Leung, In Chak Law, Andrew Wai Chun Yip, Traumatic rectal perforation by an eel, Surgery, Volume 135, Issue 1, January 2004, Pages 110-111) where the fish is not identified further than to “eel”, it appears from the photograph there, which is very small and in low resolution, that this is not an eel at all, but more likely a swamp eel, apparently Monopterus albus, a common food fish in China where it is sold alive in the markets. This identification is suggested by the very slender tip of the tail, and somewhat inflated gular region. Thanks to Ralf Britz, expert on this order of fishes, the Synbranchiformes, for inspiring me to look at the original paper and first suggesting the identification. The swamp eel portrayed here, was never inside a human, though:

Monopterus albus, preserved. Photo Sven O Kullander, CC-BY-NC