It is said that of all the major cuisines of China, Teochew food is probably the most suitable for the Japanese palate. The emphasis on freshness of seafood and the use of simple flavours to highlight the original flavour of the produce is very similar.
When I was at Tsukiji market last year, I realise that both cultures also have a strong fishcake culture. When you are in Japan you can find places serving just deep fried fish cakes of many different flavours. I guess fishcakes are just a natural result of having bountiful seafood.
Fishcake is basically minced fish meat which has been pounded till the proteins strands have unraveled so that it becomes springy. This is true of all proteins, whether its fish, pork, beef or chicken. With fishballs, what they do is to scrape the meat off the fish first to make a fish paste. Then salt and seasoning is added. The inferior fish balls would have flour added but of course this uncle here claims that theirs is made from only fish meat without the addition of flour. After that, it is a matter of “beating” the meat which basically means that the meat is thrown against a solid surface many times until the paste attains that springy texture.
Once you have this basic fish paste, you can then shape it into balls to make fishballs or into a number of different shapes. Add a bit of five spice powder and wrap it in bean curd skin and you get Ngor Hiang. Wrap it in some seaweed and it becomes another item.
The owner here, Mr Loh has been selling his fishballs here since 1962. He tells me that the price of fish keeps going up and so it is a challenge to keep producing quality fish paste nowadays compared to the good old days when good quality fish was fresh and cheap.
There are essentially two types of fish used in Singapore to make fishballs. The Teochews regard Ikan Parang or Sai Tor Her (Wolf Herring) to be the best choice for making fishballs. This fish has many bones, so to extract the meat, a spoon is used to carve the meat off the fish. The other fish which is commonly used is Yellowtail. The uncle here of course proudly declares that they only use Sai Tor Her here as any proud Teochew Ah Chek would.
To be quite honest, I feel that the Japanese produce fishcakes that are much more tasty than ours. I am not sure if it is because we don’t have as great a supply of fish as they do. I wonder if the fishballs and fishcakes in Swatow would be a lot better than they are here. As far as local fish balls are concerned, they texture of the fishballs here are excellent. Tastewise, they are good but I feel that they can be better. 4.25/5
It took me over three years to blog about the first fishball/fishcake stall. Are there other notable ones that should be blogged?
This is quite an interesting video showing the making of fishballs in Swatow!
Tiong Bahru Fishball