The Spanish Mackeral, locally known as batang, is a popular food fish in Singapore. It is commonly used for fish soups and otah. They belong to the family Scombridae which are a pelagic species whose members include tuna. They have no scales and underneath their silvery skin is a muscular flesh which is rich in blood vessels as they are strong swimmers and would often speed across the open waters of the oceans and seas. The flesh is meaty and firm, almost like the texture of chicken breast meat when it is fried.
The price of batang ranges from $7/kg to $22/kg. You can usually buy a reasonably good quality one in the range of $12/kg. As with all fish, freshness is the key. So, the fish which are caught in local waters in small, day boats are usually better quality as they are fresher. These will command premium prices. Batang which are caught in Ujang Pandang (now known as Makassar) in South Sulawesi are also regarded to be superior in taste. These are airflown to Singapore.
The Batang is easy to identify. It is usually the largest of the three closely related species of mackerals that are found in our local markets and it is the only one with vertical bars on the body. My fishmonger tells me to always look out for batang whose cross section is more narrow and sleek as they will taste better than those rounder ones. Another thing to look out for is for fish that have been line caught rather than netted. Fish that have been caught in nets usually have some bruises to the skin and are more traumatised than line caught fish and will not taste as good.
Spotted Spanish Mackeral, Indo-Pacific King Mackeral
Teochew/Hokkien: Beh Kah, Mandarin 马鲛鱼 (ma jiao yu), 斑点马鲛 (ban dian ma jiao)
Mal: Ikan Tenggiri Papan, Tenggiri Bunga
Links: FishBase, Identification key
The Spotted Spanish Mackeral is a smaller fish compared to the batang. It is usually about 30-50cm in size. Like the batang, the best ones are fished locally from small boats. I have heard a few fishmongers say that the best ones come from Pengarang, which is quite close to Singapore. This is a very good fish to use for fish balls as well as otah. Of course, if the fish is super fresh, you should just slice it and use it for fish soup!
Of the three, the Korean Seerfish is the least commonly available and the most preferred. The flesh is a little sweeter and more delicate than the batang and fish soup stalls that say they serve dua pan instead of batang are the ones you should pay more attention to. They are typically larger than the beh kah but smaller than batang. Because of their spots, they can sometimes be mistaken for a large beh kah. They are usually broader (ie the length between dorsal ie top and ventral fins) and their is a more distinct hump above the eyes which make them look a bit “fiercer” than the beh kah. Victor, my fishmonger at Kovan market tells me that the best dua pan comes from Tanjung Balai in Indonesia. This fish usually costs around $20-$25/kg.
This photo shows the typical sizes of all three species found at our wet market. The largest is usually batang, followed by dua pan and beh kah.