The Fish Fry in Little Manila in Carson, CA, USA. The markets are listed on the Markets page. Other markets also fry fish for free, and I'll try them soon. I'll place the newest report on top, but if you want to read them in chronological order, start with the market at the bottom.
M4. Seafood Ranch Market
117 223rd. St. (corner Main St. and 223rd. St.)
Carson, CA 90745
9/4/99 - Saturday night about 6:30, and I'm fishing. After I ordered, I saw they had live, small tilapia for about $1.99 per pound, and I might have gotten them. They also had larger tilapia on ice for 69¢ per pound, matching Seafood City's price. I got the next least expensive, bonita (tulingan), for 99¢ a pound. Latter I saw a sign on the wall: they had four types of fish at 99¢ a pound. Learned a few lessons today: look for live fish, read all the signs, and get a number from the take-a-number machine. Other places have the machines, but this place actually uses them.
Today I was hungry, and I bought too much food. I picked out two bonitas, weighing .98 pounds and totaled 97¢. While they cleaned and fried the fish, I looked through the produce department. Chinese eggplant was 79¢ per pound, shallots were $3.79 a pound, but not much looked good. These prices are some of the highest in the area. On the way home I stopped at Seafood City (M7) for vegetables, but only five check-out lines were open, and the lines were rather long. I went across the street to Tambuli Market (M6) and got one Chinese eggplant for 38¢ a pound, about 20 snow peas for $1.29 a pound, and one shallots at $1.99 a pound. That came to 8¢ for .22 pounds of eggplant, 25¢ for .19 pounds of snow peas, and 18¢ for .09 pounds of shallots. There was just one check-out line but just one person with a small purchase ahead of me. I didn't use the shallot, only ate one fish, the snow peas, and half the eggplant for a total of 78¢.
Bonita is a stronger tasting, oval fish, and for the first time I could smell them on the way home. These are the biggest, small fish I had yet, almost 10 inches long, with lots of good tasting darker meat. Lots of bones. From the back bone there are firm pin bones going up and down and smaller ones going left and right. There are even thinner, long bones at the top and bottom. This might be the best tasting fish so far, when I want a stronger taste. Most people don't like this many bones, so that keeps the price low.
For the vegetables, I washed them first. For the eggplant, same as the last time: cut off the stem and punch some holes. Without holes they say some vegetables can explode in a microwave. For eggplant, look for bright color, smooth skin, firm texture, and no physical damage. Dry stems indicate older produce. On the snow peas, for myself, I just cut off the tips. For company, you might want to de-string them and cut them fancy. Try to pick small, bright-green peas; not big, old, pale, tough ones. Check both sides for physical damage. If you cook large and small peas together, the small ones can over cook before the big ones are tender. Sometimes you can't avoid different sizes, and it's better split then into two batches and cook them different times. I put these all on one plate, just with the moisture from washing, larger peas to the outside, sealed them in plastic wrap, and microwaved them for two to three minutes. They will turn a brighter green. For company you can put out small dipping bowls of mushroom soy sauce, oriental vinegar, and the stuff I mentioned in the last review.
9/5/99 - I finished off the other fish and half an eggplant tonight, right out of the refrigerator. The fish was milder when it's cold. Seafood City has Chinese broccoli and baby bokchoy on sale for 25¢ a pound, and I don't remember ever seeing such low prices. I lost the receipt, but I got about 18¢ of broccoli, so it must have weighted about .72 pounds. Especially with Chinese broccoli, it's easier to cook it as two or three dish. The first dish uses just the leaves and their small stems and the flower buds and their small stems. I just wash them, leaving some moisture, and stack the leaves on a plate with the stems toward the outside. Wrap it an plastic, and microwave it for from 30 seconds to one minute. That will turn the leaves a bright green and just soften the stems. Do not overcook. Try tossing the leaves with a little warmed-up, diluted oyster sauce or other dressing for a salad. The other stems can be separated as large and small, and cut into disks, diagonals, juliennes, or whatever and used several ways. Same idea with American broccoli. Company will ask you what the stems are, cause they don't usually see them cut this way. For this meal I only used about one-third of the broccoli, so the total came to about 55¢.
M3. Hoa Fong Market (Chinese?)
22200 S. Main St.
Carson, CA 90745
9/3/99 - Friday night after 6 p.m., and I'm looking for dinner. I picked out two, small, eight-inch moon fish weighing .81 pounds at 99¢ per pound for a total of 80¢. I also got one small, Chinese eggplant at 59¢ per pound for 15¢. They close at 7 p.m., and I asked when they stop cleaning and frying fish. Someone said about 6:30 p.m. I left about 6:40 p.m., so I just made it. They also had some live seafood, and this is a full-service market.
The fatter fish was slightly overcooked, but some of the thinner fish was toast. I gave up trying to use a fork and picked at the fish with my fingers. The moon fish are flat with central back and pin bones and also a row of small bones across the top. It's a mild, good tasting fish. See what I said about over cooking in the first review. Forgot to mention that on most of these small fish, the stomach meat gets overcooked and fused with the pin bones. It's not worth trying to eat that small amount of stomach meat.
While they were cooking the fish, I picked up a Chinese eggplant in the produce section. I almost bought a package of good-looking tomatoes, but their's were wrapped in plastic, and I didn't want that many. On the way home I stopped at Tambuli Market (M6) for some more newspapers and got two tomatoes. These were medium sized and at 39¢ per pound came to 21¢. These weren't quite ripe. Dinner with two fish, one eggplant, and one tomato came to $1.06. By the way, both the tomatoes and eggplant were cheaper at Tambuli, both about 39¢ per pound.
A quick and easy way to cook the Chinese eggplant is to wash it, cut off the stem, poke a few fork holes, and microwave it till it collapses. That took about three minutes today for this quarter pounder. Then split it in half, and hit it with soy, teriyaki, hoisin, black bean, garlic, or chili sauce, or whatever. Just before you serve it, microwave it again for only a few seconds to warm up the sauce, and make it fragrant. Company thinks you prepared a fancy dish.
(M6) Tambuli Market
126 W. Carson St. (southwest corner of Carson and Main Streets)
Carson, CA 90745
8/28/99, Saturday, about 6:30 p.m. - Open seven days, 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. It's a complete market with a meat and seafood, fresh produce, and canned item sections. The fresh fish is also iced on tables. Help yourself and take it to someone behind the counter. They'll clean and can cook it until 7 p.m. They have three check-out lines, one was marked as an express line. They had sale signs on several items, and it looked like they were matching the sale prices at Seafood City.
I wanted to stay with small, inexpensive fish, so I picked out two butterfish (pompano). One wasn't enough, two was too much, so I got two. These were $1.29/pound, weighed .75 pounds, and totaled 97¢. I just let them cook them the way they wanted. They don't have a paging system, so just go back after a few minutes.
They were cooked just about right, maybe a little over cooked. Butterfish are flat, with a central back bone and pin bones, and also rows of smaller bones at the top and bottom. The fillets are thicker than on the previous fish, and the flesh was flaky with a mild taste. I ate them both. You'll want to use utensils. I also bought one lime (which I didn't use) at 69¢ per pound. That's 8¢ per lime, versus 12.5¢ per lime at Seafood City. Actually 25¢ per lime at Seafood City cause one was bad.
You can practice eating these Chinese style if they're not too overcooked. But it is easier with a steamed fish. Chinese style is where you don't turn the fish over. First you eat the top fillet, then you then you remove the back and pin bones to the bone plate. Then you can eat the bottom fillet without turning the fish over. Practice at home with chop sticks so you look good in a restaurant.
(M7) Seafood City Supermarket
131 W. Carson St. (NW corner with Main St.)
Carson, CA 90745
9/18/99 - I've also tried a 2-pound milk fish which was cut like fish steaks on the bone and overcooked but good. Also tried small butter star fish which were cooked just right, very moist, and easy to de-bone.
Updated 8/24/99 - 8/21/99 - I wanted to see them fried fish, so I went back Saturday night, about 7 p.m. The fish are on ice on low tables. The bags in which you put your fish are on the counter. They do need bag dispenser near the fish. 9/14/99 - Now the plastic bags are under the tables. Some people pick up the fish with tongs, others with plastic bags over their hands. If you use tongs, please be careful; I saw several messed up fish. First, you pick out your fish, and take it to someone behind the counter. He explained that on these small fish they don't remove the skin or the fins which I prefer. They weight it, give you a number, and page you when it's ready. They clean it, deep fry it if you wish, wrap it in aluminum foil, and bag it in pink plastic. Salt is an option. Their regular bags are yellow, so this must be a color code thing. I picked out two, eight-inch Spanish sardines. At 99¢ per pound that came to 45¢ -- cleaned and cooked for .44-pounds of fish. I may never fry fish again.
On purpose I didn't say anything about how long to cook the fish, cause I wanted to see how they would cook it.
I looked around the store, waiting to be paged. Numbers higher than mine were being called. This was taking too long, so I asked the fryer if he had seen two sardines. They had been cooked, but not bagged or paged. I don't know if they would have paged me.
I ate the sardines with two side dishes which where enough for me. Hearty eaters might want three, four, or more sardines. Heck, five would be about $1.13. This was my only meal of the day, so I just broke off the head and ate the first one like corn on the cob. The pin bones were very small and delicate, just be sure to chew enough so you don't swallow a whole bone. I just left the head and the back bone. Maybe kids shouldn't eat this way. The second one I broke in half and peeled the fillets away from the backbone, and that removed most of the pin bones also. Don't expect or even try to remove all the bones. On such a small fish don't expect any cheek meat.
They were rather overcooked, going for a crisp skin. But remember these are very small fish, maybe the cook just need more experience. If you want them cooked delicately, you'll have to ask. Most of their fish look fresh, and these tasted good, right out of the fryer. I'm going to do it again.
PS - Many Oriental markets offer free fish frying, other markets in this area do. However, some Chinese markets also offer steaming. Sometimes you want a good steamed fish. Seems like this place is big enough to offer steaming also.
8/22/99 - Went back Sunday about 3 p.m. to pick up dinner. Indian mackerel is on sale this week at 58¢ per pound. I almost bought it yesterday, but the fish were larger, and I didn't want that much. Today they were small, under seven inches. I got two which weighed .42-pounds for a cost of 24¢. Can you believe they cooked my fish for dinner for a total of 24¢? I almost bought a few shrimp, but they won't cook them.
Mackerel is a stronger-tasting fish, but these tasted good. This time I broke off the head and peeled the fillet away from the bones, starting where the head was. That removed most of the bones. These pin bones are a little larger than in the sardines, so you'll probably want to remove most of them. The fillets were thicker than on the sardines, and this time I hit then with some fresh lime juice. You might not want to eat the fins and the associated stuff. Just pull them off. Again, I didn't specify how long I wanted them cooked. These were just slightly over cooked, but ok. Remember to ask for delicate cooking if that's important to you.
Again, I didn't hear them page me. After a while I asked if it was ready, and it was already in a bag. Don't depend on being paged.
I also got Roma tomatoes at 33¢ per pound and two limes at eight for a
$1.00. Good I got two limes, one was dry, the other was good. Remember, try to
pick produce which seem heavy for its size - I forgot. It also helps to
squeeze it, like by rolling it between your hand and the counter, before you cut it. They have
six check-out lines, without an express line. I like to shop every day, so
an express line would help me. The best I could do today was a line with two
people ahead of me. Thanks to the couple with a full cart who asked me to get in front of them.