Restaurant: Aberdeen Fish Market Canteen/Restaurant (香港仔魚市場海鮮餐廳)
Last visited: October 16, 2012
Location: Central, Hong Kong (SoHo/Hollywood)
Address: G/F, 102 Shek Pai Wan Rd, Aberdeen (at the Fish Market)
Phone: 2552 7555
Price Range: Lunch for 2 around $200-400HKD/person ($25-50/each)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
Ambiance: 2 (but 5 since it’s at the fish market)
- Fish Market
- Breakfast & Lunch only
- Seafood only
- Market fresh seafood
- Some exotic seafood
- No menu
- Not really open to public
- Very casual
- Hole in the wall
- Hidden gem
- Family style cooking
- Cash only
- 10% service charge
- Daily 5am-2.30pm
**Recommendations: Salt & Pepper Squid, Abalone, Prawns, Steamed Fish of the Day, Iced Hong Kong Coffee (or half coffee/half tea mix), French Toast
The secret is out! Well actually, not really. Locals may know about this place, but even so, it’s not a lot of them. It’s a place that won’t get that much attention and frankly it doesn’t even want or need it (not in a hipster way either). I am seriously so happy that I was introduced to this hidden gem because it ended up being one of my highlights in Follow Me Foodie to Hong Kong – Part 2! I wish I could pick it up and bring it home to Vancouver!
What’s up my friend?!? I am invading your space. This is in fact the Aberdeen Fish Market in Hong Kong. It’s not a touristy fish market though, it’s actually the opposite. This Fish Market is associated with the Fish Marketing Organization and it is only for people in the industry. They wholesale fish to hotels, restaurants and retailers and while you can purchase 1-2 fish for the home, it is not really that kind of place. They will sell to the public after their main business is done, but it is not advertised or catered for the general public. You’re welcome to walk around the market though, but everything happens at 5am-2:30pm and I suggest going before noon if you want to see any action.
You can watch the boats dock as the fisherman unload their catches. The boats are from all over Asia so you’ll find lots of exotic fish and seafood. I’ve been to Fish Markets before, but usually they are open to the public and it was my first time coming to this one.
I can’t even capture the size of these prawns, but they were really big. I could spend a day just looking at all the different kinds of seafood because it was so different than the varieties I see at home being in Vancouver, BC.
These prawns were even bigger! I’m pretty sure these were enormous Mantis shrimp and they were the size of lobsters. They actually taste like them too. It may look cruel to keep them in plastic bottles like this, but these shrimp are dangerous and they can gash your hand open. They have really sharp claws and they usually stay hidden and buried in the oceans for most of their lives, unless they are looking for food or moving homes. They also spray water when you pick them up so the bottles are kept around them for a couple reasons. You can find them in the Indian and Pacific Oceans (tropical/sub-tropical waters) and I think these were from the Philippines.
I’m not sure what kind of crab this was and there were no signs or labels at the Fish Market, but I’m going with Tiger Crab. I think the proper name for it is Orithyia Sinica, which I can’t even pronounce… thank goodness I have a blog. There are over 6700+ species of crab though, so just forgive me if I’m wrong.
And this is what I really came for. The fisherman’s cafeteria or the fisherman’s canteen. It goes by “Aberdeen Fish Market Canteen” and it is where all the industry folk, fish mongers, and fisherman go for breakfast or lunch. Again, it is not really open to the public, but you can go after their busy times which is likely after 12pm or 1pm. The fisherman start their days early so lunch happens early and they are catered to first.
I seriously love this place. It was in my top 5 restaurants I visited in Hong Kong. To be honest, I wasn’t being blown away by Hong Kong’s dining scene and with almost every restaurant I kept thinking “I can get this at home”, or “I’ve had this better in Vancouver”. I admit, I am spoiled by the quality of Chinese food in Vancouver, and while many would argue Hong Kong’s Chinese food is better, I can’t really agree, not yet at least. Perhaps I need to spend more time there, but I found there to be a lot more misses than hits even though I love the city.
This, however, was different. This was something special especially for someone who doesn’t get this type of seafood often. Being from the West Coast of North America I’m exposed to seafood that is still excellent, but just completely different than this. It’s apples and oranges so I valued this experience more than perhaps someone living in Asia might. Also there are not many places in North America with an onsite cafeteria where you can purchase seafood and bring it for the restaurant to cook. They don’t really do this here, but places that do do this are common in Asia. Here they just prepare the food with fresh seafood from the market.
Regardless, seafood is the focus in Asia and these establishments may be easily found in Asia, but it would be special to have in places like my hometown. Sure we have live seafood tanks at Chinese restaurants in Vancouver, but it’s not quite the same and the kind of seafood is different. Having said that, the food at The Aberdeen Fish Market Canteen was prepared top notch and I would highly recommend anyone going to Hong Kong to put this on their “must try” list.
The restaurant is run by a small family for over a decade. It was very homestyle and simple, but that’s exactly the cooking method and style you want for a place serving seafood this fresh and high in quality. There is no menu and you just pay market price for everything. You can ask for “chef’s menu” and give them a budget, or you can tell them what seafood you want and pick your choice of sauce. I was with a local who knew the “ins and outs”, so she called ahead to make reservations and pre-order because some things like the “fish of the day” can sell out early. Again, this is not a place that’s really open to the public, so give them a call ahead, and if that doesn’t work then just go visit them near closing time and smile nicely… and bring some booze… that might help too.
On the table:
As for ambiance, don’t expect anything more than what you see. It is plastic table clothes and dishes you want to wash in boiling water at your table before you start. This is pretty typical to do in Hong Kong though, at least at the lower end and super casual dining establishments. This place might look “low end”, but it’s actually $25-50+ USD/per person depending on what you order. I find that a bargain because you’re getting the freshest seafood, and seafood is still seafood – it’s typically expensive.
- This was not particularly an excellent Hong Kong Style Milk Tea/Coffee, but it was a very good one and I would order it again.
- If you’ve never had Hong Kong Style Milk Tea it’s completely different than the American versions.
- It’s made with black tea and evaporated or condensed milk.
- I ordered “half coffee and half tea” which is also a common way to order the drink.
- It’s creamy and sweet and the Hong Kong Milk Teas in Vancouver don’t taste as good as the ones in Hong Kong.
- I’ve tried about 15 in Vancouver and none of them are as good as the average ones in Hong Kong.
- I don’t know what the difference is, but the ones in Hong Kong are just richer, rounder and smoother in flavour and texture.
- Market price
- These seemed like Tiger Prawns of Jumbo prawns and one was almost the size of the plate.
- Choice of sauce: Sweet and Sour, Soy Sauce and Garlic, Salt, Green Onions & Chili, Green Onion & Garlic
- They actually have about 6-8 choices for sauces, but I couldn’t try them all.
- I wanted to try the most I could so I asked for the top 4 recommended sauces.
- This is the first time in a decade the owners and chef have ever cooked 4 prawns in 4 styles. Usually you would choose one sauce for a small order like this.
- The prawns were pan fried perfectly and still had their crunch.
- The sauces weren’t particularly amazing, but they were well prepared, standard and very enjoyable.
- Although excellent I can find something similar in Vancouver but the prawns will likely not be as big.
Salt, Green Onions & Chili – This is a typical seasoning for deep fried seafood. It wasn’t too spicy, but I prefer the prawn deep fried with this seasoning. I love this seasoning and the bits of garlic are all deep fried until crispy and nutty so it’s quite a fragrant seasoning with a good balance of salt and spice.
Green Onion & Garlic Sauce – This was a soy based sauce and it was the sauciest version for the prawn. It was good, but also what one would expect if you’ve had this before. I probably prefer this sauce with crab and a bowl of rice. They do serve rice upon request.
Sweet & Sour Sauce – See! Sweet and sour sauce does exist even in Hong Kong. It was a Ketchup based sauce and Ketchup was invented by the Chinese so this isn’t “Americanized”. This was quite good and it was a very typical sweet and sour sauce made with sugar, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and cornstarch. It was the sticky sauce that made you lick your fingers unlike the other ones.
Soy Sauce & Garlic – This was the most standard and traditional. It was simple sauce with the aromatics of green onions, garlic and ginger. If you want to try the natural flavours of the prawn you don’t really want it coated with sauce, so this is good for purists.
- Market price
- Calamari. I know. What the heck? Why would I order calamari here? Why would I want to batter, deep fry and mask the flavours of the freshest seafood?
- I was surprised this was such a popular dish here, but after one bite I understood why. These were amazing!
- They were crispy and crunchy with a batter that adhered to the squid.
- The batter was key and it was almost like a fried chicken batter and it wasn’t thick or ever soggy.
- The squid was thick and meaty and so tender that I barely had to chew it. It was cooked perfectly.
- It was perfectly golden brown and the oil didn’t taste old and the frying temperature was right.
- One bite and I would cut the squid without having to chew it twice. I could have ate the whole plate.
- They were well seasoned with salt and it was the perfect amount of batter for a squid of this size and thickness.
- I would definitely recommend these and order them again.
- You can order these with the Spicy Salt & Chili seasoning as well.
- Market price
- I always order Razor Clams in Asia because I can’t get them in North America let alone Vancouver very easily.
- I love razor clams and they basically taste like thicker and meatier regular clams.
- Due to their long shape and shell, they kind of taste like clam noodles.
- You can choose the style of sauce and these were sauteed in a black bean and chili garlic sauce.
- The sauce was savoury with a mild kick and the clams were perfectly cooked and tender. I didn’t have to chew these much either.
- The quality of razor clams were excellent, but you can find razor clams prepared this way throughout Asia.
- You might not have to order this dish here, but the quality of clams might not be as good elsewhere.
- Market price
- This is a MUST TRY! Write this down! Right now!
- You have to order the Fish of the Day and it always sells out early so reserve it.
- I eat “Steamed Chinese Fish” like this all the time.
- I’ve probably had at least 100 versions of this dish in my lifetime (no joke), and this was still the best one I’ve had to date.
- I hate saying anything is “the best”, but this was certainly my favourite.
- The kind of fish wasn’t even that expensive or amazing, but it was simply the way they prepared it.
- It was super simple and homestyle, but I haven’t even had a Chinese mom cook a fish this good for me at their house!
- This was an honest winner and the fish was flaky, moist, JUST cooked, and melt in your mouth tender.
- The sauce was a light soy sauce and it was just so simple, natural and beautiful I want to cry.
- Don’t waste that sauce either! Write that down too! It’s awesome with rice which you can order here as well.
- Market price
- I don’t want to know how much these were. I don’t even remember, but they are a Chinese delicacy.
- This is seafood for royalty or the “Emperor of shellfish”. It’s the “Kobe beef” of the sea.
- It symbolizes good fortune, wealth and prosperity and if it’s at your table, then you’re being spoiled.
- Abalone can retail from $5/each for low quality ones to $100+ for premium ones.
- This abalone was from South Africa and they are more valued and better than the ones from Australia or New Zealand.
- Just for comparisons sake, see a fresh Australian Abalone I had at Jade Seafood in Vancouver (Richmond) here.
- They are often sold canned (cheap quality) or dried (can be cheap quality or premium) in North America, but fresh is best in my opinion.
- The abalone is a large sea snail, but the flavour is very similar to a scallop or clam, but much firmer, meatier and chewier, like a medium cooked steak.
- The firmer it is, usually means the better the quality is.
- People want to have bite, chew, and resistance to the abalone, but it’s not supposed to be tough and overly chewy either.
- It is always eaten with a knife and fork if it’s a high quality abalone, which this one was.
- The texture and flavour is consistent throughout so there’s no mushy or pasty part, like you would experience from clams, mussels, or oysters.
- The flavour and texture can be acquired since it is rather rubbery and heavy with seafood flavour.
- The one here was prepared very simple as to not overpower the natural flavour of the expensive abalone.
- The sauce was a simple sweet soy sauce, and even better would have been a scallop, abalone, seafood or chicken stock base sauce.
- The sauce was on the oily side, but the sauce was really not the important part here.
- The glossy shell was stunning like pearls and this was truly a beautiful abalone.
- The brown strip on top of the abalone is a dried mandarin peel.
- It is meant to be eaten with the abalone for digestive reasons. This relates back to the whole “yin and yang” Chinese cooking philosophy I mentioned in this article.
- It is also said that in the past they might have used this to mask the fishiness of the abalone if it wasn’t as fresh.
- It was almost like how some sushi chefs might use wasabi to “mask” the flavours of sashimi if it is not as fresh.
- I’m on the side that thinks a tiny bit of wasabi opens the palate and enhances the flavour of the sashimi, but there are two sides to the argument.
- Personally I enjoyed the mandarin peel with the abalone and it was almost like squeezing a bit of lemon on fresh seafood… it doesn’t always make it better, but it was nice in this case.
- I love Hong Kong style French Toast! It’s excellent.
- Apparently this is excellent here, but I think I had an off day because I thought it was very good, but not quite excellent.
- They serve these all over Vancouver as well, but usually they don’t cut the bread into cubes like this.
- I liked it better that it was in cubes because it allowed for more surface area and crispy edges.
- It was almost like a doughnut and they use a fluffy sweeter white bread to make it.
- The outside is crispy and the inside is soft, fluffy and tender and it’s drizzled with sweet condensed milk.
- You eat this for breakfast, but it can also be a dessert.
- Sometimes they spread a layer of Kaya jam (coconut jam) in the middle and I love those versions too.
- It can also be toasted instead of deep fried and the best toasted version I’ve had to date was possibly in Singapore at the Coffee Museum – see here.
- Several bubble tea places and Hong Kong style cafes make excellent versions of this too. Usually it would be called “Thick Toast with Condensed Milk” in the snack section of the menu.