Thursday, June 16, 2011

Live Fish Da Pai Dong

Growing up in a coastal town meant that my parents and, hence, I fostered an unnatural and unquenchable love of seafood. Some of the greatest memories of my recent trip to China involve being taken out each night and sampling the weird and wonderful sea creatures displayed in the restaurant tanks.

They don't even need fancy signs to attract customers. Their food says it all.
One of my fondest (and only) memory of growing up in Fuzhou was when my dad scoured the markets buying up the city's entire supply of crabs for my poppa's birthday! Yes, we take our seafood very seriously.

It was quite lucky that when we did immigrate, we chose a place equally close to the sea, although I would frequently hear my parents complain about the lack of variety and the local's apparent aversion to shellfish -"You mean they use clams for fishing and not for eating?!" I would often hear them say. 

Frankly, I have to agree with them. I often find myself craving a nice plate of clams or whelks so I was pretty excited when my parents informed us that we were going to Live Fish Da Pai Dong -the country's only Chinese alfresco seafood dining experience. It is modeled on Hong Kong's "Da Pai Dong," a type of open air food stall, and one doesn't bother looking at the menu because all the prices are based on the season and the day's catch. As per Chinese tradition, everything is priced by the pound and a waitress takes us to different tanks where we can choose our food along with how we want them cooked.

Somebody's lobster
My father, deciding what to order

It's as big as my arm!
The kitchen is open till very late (2am late) to suit the hardcore seafood fans while its dining area is furnished with plastic tables and chairs only -because, after all, they're not a furniture store, they do food! And boy do they do it well! 
Their kitchen is so open that it's basically in the ordering area so one can inspect the chef's skills -and by inspect, I mean stare and drool from afar. It took everything in me not to leap across the bench and start digging in.

From this...
...To this: Diamond shell clams -$12/lb
Luckily for me, I did not have to wait long for our food to arrive. I've decided that's the beauty with Chinese cuisine -almost everything is stir fried so one's food arrives without having to wait hours for an oven! We started off with some diamond shell clams in a black bean and chilli sauce. The sauce provides some welcomed heat without overpowering the taste of the clams which were very fresh. 
Whelks -$15/lb
And this is how you eat one
My friends will probably cringe at this next picture, and then make some sort of face when they find out that whelks are actually a delicacy in China (especially Francesca, who used to have a pet sea snail). Whelks are simply cooked in boiling water and served with a simple dipping sauce (usually soy sauce and vinegar) so one can appreciate its natural flavour and they taste pretty good with a nice bottle of beer as accompaniment. These delicious morsels are quite similar to escargot but infinitely better because they provide more bite and don't taste like my garden.

Steamed crab -$25/lb
Another thing revered for its natural taste is crab. My father taught me that the best way to enjoy fresh crab is to cook it in boiling water so you can fully appreciate its natural taste -don't trust restaurants that try to deep fry it or mask it with chilli sauce (although I have to admit, I do enjoy a bit of chilli crab now and then). With such a simple cooking technique, there can be no doubt of its freshness.

Surf clams -$8 each
One particular item that wasn't priced by the pound was the surf clam. They were each steamed with vermicelli and minced garlic and served piping hot. The clams were crunchy and were very nicely offset with the soft, garlicky vermecelli. 

Geoduck -$43/lb
For all you Pokemon lovers, let me set this straight right now: we did not eat the offspring of geodude and psyduck. For those who have never tried this before, geoduck is a species of very large saltwater clam with large trunk-like bits and has quite a rubbery but crunchy texture when cooked. There were quite a few large slices of geoduck which lent their sweet flavour to the rest of the dish -the mushrooms were especially tasty as they had soaked in the geoduck flavour as well as the sauces.

Steamed wrasse -$48/lb

Despite my love of seafood, I have to admit that I'm not really a fish person. I'm just deeply in love with shellfish -perhaps it was the fact that my parents fed me a whole fish everyday when I was a child? Or maybe it's because we've just had fish for dinner every day for about a week? Or maybe none of the fish I've had compare to this particular dish of steamed wrasse?

This was probably the best steamed fish I've had in Auckland. The flesh was incredibly soft and flaky and quite oily without being sickly. Steamed fish at Chinese restaurants are generally done the same way, with some oil, soy sauce and a large heap of ginger and spring onions so it's really the fish that decides the calibre of the dish -the fresher, the better.

Stir-fried rice noodles with beef -$22

Sizzling venison -$28
If you've studied the previous photographs carefully, you would have noticed that there isn't much in the way of carbohydrates -as in, the stuff that actually fills you up. This prompted us to try some of the non-seafood dishes and were quite happy to learn that this seafood dedicated restaurant actually produced some very yummy meat dishes. The stir-fried noodles with bean sprouts and beef was very hearty while the venison (mum's fav) was so tender that it almost melted in my mouth with each bite.

"Liang Ban" Whelk with cucumber -$15/lb
"Liang Ban" literally means "cold mix" in mandarin and is basically like a salad. We ordered the whelk and cucumber salad to finish because we decided that dessert is for the weak. That, and the the fact they don't do desserts here. The whelk and cucumber was tossed (well, drenched) in a sweet vinegar sauce and was full of crunch. It had sharp and strong flavours and was actually a very refreshing end to the meal.

Marquees -the benefit of being outside, but with the comfort of being inside
If you, too, want to experience the freshest seafood Auckland has to offer then come to Live Fish New Zealand at the Auckland Fish Markets on Jellicoe St, Freemans Bay, Auckland CBD, New Zealand. Come with your pockets full though as it is pricey -and leave with your  bellies satisfied =)

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  1. My oh my! I might fly over just to get to this restaurant! I might even brave the ash cloud for this yumminess!

  2. My friends call me Seafood Monster such is my love for the stuff. I loved reading about this meal, it got me all hungry again! :D

  3. I love most shellfish but I owuld pass on whelks. I have not had such a feast in a long time. Everything looks delicious! Have a great weekend!

  4. Wow! I love seafood too... you are so lucky eating all these delicious food! I love Chinese seafood dishes! I'm also exact 5 feet too! Nice to meet you!

  5. I did cringe when I saw the pictures of the whelks ;), but I would gobble up everything else since I LOVE seafood...!

  6. haha! I love those kinds of foods!! Those whelks look sooo funny! I think we Koreans eat that stuff too. Oh I have one random question! You're from NZ~do you know Brooke Fraser? If so, do you listen to her music? She's the bomb! :D

  7. Kevin @ www.justedible.comJuly 15, 2011 at 6:34 PM

    Hey Lucy, I so wish I still lived in Auckland after reading about all these molluscs. I want!