1993 / 2月
Jackie Chen /tr. by Phil Newell
Seafood connoisseurs commonly agree that Taiwan grey mullet eggs are tasty. Why?
In a 300-year-old Dutch document, it is recorded that the people living along the coast of Fukien Province knew that "red-colored, thick-membraned" grey mullet eggs soaked in salt make a tasty treat. This method of preparation had evolved by the Japanese occupation era into a meticulous process: After buying grey mullet at the market, the ovaries would be removed. After washing off the blood, these were then pickled in salt. The pickled product was removed from the salt, pressed flat, cut into shapes, and dried, thus completing the process.
The method has been passed down for hundreds of years, and the fish preserving industry still respectfully completes the process one step at a time. For example, when taking out the ovaries it is very easy to break them, and the cooks doing the processing work have to sew them back up with chicken-gut as fine as silk thread. Or take drying. It just wouldn't do to use clay-oven drying--that would leave a clayey or earthen taste. Only those bits stretched out under the sun count. "It's delicious because of the process, and because of the grey mullet," says Su Wen-ching, an operator in the field.
What's mysterious is that the grey mullets that swim to Taiwan are already adults. Research by the Taiwan Fisheries Research Institute shows that very rarely are adolescent or immature mullet found off the coast of Taiwan. These adults are young and strong, in fine health, and just in the reproductive cycle, so they are in high spirits and full of ambition. As a result the mullet and their eggs are both fresh and beautiful to behold.
In Western-style restaurants, the caviar made from salmon eggs is already recognized around the globe as a delicacy. For the grey mullet eggs which Chinese love to eat, the only other connoisseurs are to be found in Japan, mainland China, or Israel. Maybe it's because fewer people eat mullet eggs, so that relatively less fuss is made that eating the eggs will be harmful to the mullets' ecology. So it seems that those who love this treat can go on indulging themselves in peace for a while longer.
In 1940, the Hongmao Port Fishermen's Cooperative (today the Kaohsiung Small Port Area Fishermen's Association) took this commemorative photo after the class on the processing of grey mullet roe. (photo courtesy of Yang Hung-chia)