I remember many years ago, I wanted to buy fresh slices of 'sheng yu' (snakehead fish) for our steamboat dinner. We often eat this in the Chinese restaurants and I liked the fresh, clean taste.
My friend told me the best place to buy them was at the wet market in Chinatown. I drove around and found the fish market situated in a dark, dingy basement of a hawker centre. I walked slowly on the wet and slippery floor, groping my way through the maze of shops. Finally, I saw the sign!
I walked up gingerly to the old fishmonger, who asked gruffly "How much do you need?"
"Not so much. Enough for a small family."
Before I could utter another word, he hauled out a live fish from the tank, tossed it onto the huge wooden chopping board and in one big sweeping motion, hammered the poor fish with a humongous wooden mallet. BANG! The fish was dead. He started cutting up the fish with the smashed head.
I stood there, shocked and terribly upset! I didn't know that's how they sell a snakehead. I was expecting him to hand me small slices. If I had known that I was responsible for the fate of this fish, I wouldn't have been there in the first place.
It was such a horrible experience. I was miserable. He handed me the slices in a bag and I didn't have the heart to cook it anymore. I think I even said a little prayer....
The snakehead fish, also called serpent-headed fish, is an elongated, torpedo-shaped fish with a small head, big teeth and long dorsal fin. Snakeheads may grow up to 33 inches in length and weigh up to 15 pounds. Snakeheads can live outside of water for up to three days, and some can wiggle overland with extended fins. The name comes from the presence of large scales on the head and the forward placement of the eyes.
According to Mr Anonymous:
The 'whacking' of the snakehead comes from an old Cantonese belief. The fish has an 'evil twin' that is outwardly identical but harmful to eat. The only way to tell them apart is to whack the fish before slaughter. Little legs will supposedly emerge from the evil twin's body when you whack them.