The most famous Keelung Fish Market: Kanziding Fish Market
The Keelung Kanziding Fish Market is the main fish market in Northern Taiwan and one of the top tourist attractions on the island. It’s a unique experience to walk through the market streets brimming with people and trucks full of fish (at midnight when it opens!), appreciate the abundance of life in the surrounding seas, and hear master salesmen sing their live actions in Mandarin slang, rivaling the best of street hip-hop performances.
For more, see our excellent review of the market here.
With so many fish for sale in the market, it can be a feast to the eyes and a daunting task to identify many of them. Here I will tell you a little bit about some of the most common and some of the most unique fish species you might encounter here. But this is by no means an exhaustive list (I might need to write a whole book for that!), so I have included a little list of references where you can find more information about these and other species that I did not have time (or space) to mention here.
So strap yourselves and let’s start!
Fish species can be found in Keelung fish market with little cooking tips
1. Branchiostegus albus or “White Horse Head”
Branchiostegus albus or “White Horse Head” fish as it’s known in Taiwan is a relatively large (up to 45cm in length) and relatively abundant white to light pink fish that you can find in the market. It’s not as abundant as its sister species the “Red Horse Head” fish (Branchiostegus japonicus, which is redder, of course), but it’s much bigger. According to locals, they’re both equally delicious!
2. Chelidonichthys kumu or “Black Horn fish”
Known as Black Horn fish in Taiwan and Pacific Red Gurnard to the West (Chelidonichthys kumu), this fish is easily recognizable for its square box head and flashy colors of red and yellow with bright black or blue spots. They have peculiar but colorful pectoral fins that open up like butterfly wings and let the fish glide in the bottom of oceans, and the first three rays of said fins are separated and look like legs that the fish uses to “walk” in the muddy ocean bottoms. In reality, these “legs” are sensory organs that the fish uses to probe for worms and other organisms to eat. These fishes’ colorful features make them very sought out in the aquarium trade. In the Keelung market however, they’re sought out for sashimi and fish soup!
3. Trichiurus lepturus or “White Hairtail”
You would not know it, but the Pacific Cutlassfish (Trichiurus lepturus) -or White Hairtail as it’s known in Taiwan- is the sixth most fished fish on the planet, and therefore an important source of income and of proteins for people around the world. You won’t have difficulties recognizing this fish though: it is shaped like a sword, measures up to 1m long (sometimes over 2m long!), shiny like silver, and has a very pointy fin. They are fileted and are delicious in sashimi or pan-fried!
4. Scarus ghobban or “Blue-Trimmed Parrotfish”
The Blue-Trimmed Parrotfish or Blue-Spotted Parrotfish (Scarus ghobban) is well known in fish markets throughout Asia. The females of the species are yellow (pictured here are males), but as in some other fish species, they start as females and eventually turn into males as they grow older! They eat live coral and excrete the hard parts of their food as sand, so thanks to them, we have beautiful white sandy beaches in the tropics! They are excellent steamed, braised in brown sauce, or fried!
5. Plectropomus leopardus or “Seven Star Spot”
Known in Taiwan as the Seven Star Spot, or the Eastern Star Spot in Hong Kong, the Leopard Coral Grouper (Plectropomus leopardus) is considered a luxury item on the tables of fancy restaurants and of wealthy hosts looking to impress their guests in their private mansions. These blue-spotted red groupers can grow up to 1.2m and weigh well over 10kg. Although the ones you see in the Keelung Fish Market are usually 45 to 50cm in length, they still command a prime spot on tables all over the island! They also command a principal spot in aquariums all over the world!
6. Prionurus scalprum or “Scalpel Sawtail”
The Sawtail Snapper or Scalpel Sawtail (Prionurus scalprum) is so named because of its large bony plates on its tail peduncle, making it somewhat dangerous to handle. This coral fish mainly eats algae, imprinting on its meat a strong algae and fish taste that not many appreciate. However, when cleaned thoroughly after recently caught, they taste far better. You don’t see this fish sold in large quantities in the Keelung Fish Market; however, the “bream filets” sold in many establishments in the day and night markets here come from this fish!
7. Pampus punctatissimus or “White Pomfret”
The Butterfish (Pampus punctatissimus) or White Pomfret as it’s known in Taiwan, is a much sought after fish for Chinese New Year dinners in Taiwan, not only because of its terrific flavor, but also due to its high prices in the markets (prices start at 1,000 New Taiwanese Dollars per pound!), thus symbolizing wealth and prosperity for the families that can afford this fish on their tables.
8. Pagrus major or “Red Sea-Breams”
The Red Sea-Breams (Pagrus major) is perhaps the most abundant fish you’ll see in the Keelung Fish Market and the most consumed in Taiwan. Due to its bright red color and sparkling blue spots, it’s very popular for special occasions like New Year or wedding banquets, especially in Japan, where it’s considered a delicacy. This fish can grow over 1m long, but most are farmed these days, so you won’t find specimens larger than 45cm in the Keelung Fish Market. However, its meat can be prepared in myriad ways, from sashimi to pan-fried, and they are all equally delicious!
9. Fistularia petimba, also known as Fire Tube-fish
The Red Cornetfish (Fistularia petimba), also known as Fire Tube-fish or Horse Whip in Taiwan is a rare but much sought after fish in the Keelung Fish Market due to its excellent meat. They can command high prices and go quickly from the live auctions. It can grow over 2m, but you’ll see mostly individuals around 1m here in the market.
10. Gymnothorax kidako, also known as Money Eel or Potato Eel
The Kidako Moray Gymnothorax kidako (also known as Money Eel or Potato Eel in Taiwan) is another rare but much desired fish in the local markets. Its ferocious appearance, difficulty to catch, and their hiding in difficult-to-access rock crevices, make this fish available in only a few stands in the Keelung Fish Market, but locals say its gelatinous skin and flavorful meat make this fish unforgettable to their palates. It can be pan-fried or cooked in soup (with skin and all, of course!).
11. Oplegnathus punctatus, known as the Knifejaw
The Oplegnathus punctatus, known as the Knifejaw in the West and as Spotted Snapper in Taiwan is a somewhat rare but fascinating fish to be found in the Keelung Fish Market. Its jaw has parrotfish-like teeth that fuse together as the fish ages, giving it the appearance of a hard beak. They use their “beak” to crash snails and barnacles, their favorite food.
- A Market guide to Fishes and Others by Wu Jiarui [in Chinese]
- Taiwan seafood Choice Guide [in Chinese]
- Keelung Fish Market (pdf document) with short descriptions of some of the seafood species found in the Keelung Fish Market and how to prepare some of them [in Chinese]