FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF JEFFREY, THE FISH GUY
Known as a “fish guy” among my friends, I am always the one that my friends turn to for questions about fish. “Hey bro, I’ve got a BBQ this weekend, what fish can I used?” “What fish is good for steamboat?” and as I grew older, questions evolved to “What fish can I feed my baby?” My answers started to sound repetitive, and I wished I could do something about it.
I knew myself as a fish guy too. One of my fondest memories is hanging out by the Jurong Fishery Port with my twin brother, dangling our legs over the water. We were known as the "Shang Seh Kia”, meaning twin brothers at the port. Running around the port on wet, smelly floors was part of our childhood, and that, to me, was fun.
Things changed when my dad passed away when I was just 6 years old. My other siblings, who are much older than my twin brother and I, were in their early 20s. None of them knew how to run a fish merchant business. My second eldest brother, who we call “Ah B”, eventually plucked up some courage to start his own fishmonger business four years later. I was 10 years old then and started to help out at his shop on weekends. I started work at 4am in those days. At the age of 14, I started holding the knife and cutting fish. At times, I would also follow my brother to the fishery port at midnight.
I guess that seeing things at the market since a young age gave me questions that some would not bother to ask when they’re older. Questions ran through my mind like "Why must the market be so smelly?” “Why must the market be wet?” “Why must the customers press the fish so hard and spoil the fish?” “Why is there a need for a market when there is a supermarket?” I also recalled that questions like “How can I cook this fish?” “What fish is good for steaming / grlling or baking?" were some of the most repeated questions. I wondered if I could one day help to change and revolutionize the industry.
In 2007, I got to know Angeline, my then girlfriend and now beloved wife. I was shocked by how little she knew about fish. When I introduced her to my family and started bringing her home for meals, she behaved like she had not eaten for days or even weeks. There was always at least one dish of fish or shellfish on my dinner table and Angeline would always be the one wiping out the fish on the table, exclaiming that she’s never eaten fish like that before. I asked her where her family gets their fish from and she replied "from the supermarket".
What does it mean to be a "fish guy"? I realized that the reason why my brother could persist in his tough job as a fishmonger all these years in because of his belief in getting good quality produce. Every single piece of fish on the table is handpicked and validated by himself. He wakes up earlier than everyone to choose the freshest produce. Growing up in a Teochew family, we are trained to have sharp tastebuds and a sensitive sense of smell to fish. This is a belief that I carry with me to the port as well now.
In university, I was fortunate to have many opportunities to travel the world with Angeline. Of course I would miss eating fish when I’m overseas and would always buy their local fish to cook. From mackerel in Istanbul to hake in Orlando, I enjoyed tasting all types of fish around the world. I was awestruck when I steamed that piece of frozen hake in Orlando!
Global sourcing of fish is now a huge part of what we do at Dishthefish too as we want to share the best that the seafood world can offer. It is not an easy task though, as we have very stringent requirements that no chemicals be added.
I’m glad that I have Angeline on board with me to revolutionise the fish industry. Would you join us on this journey of seafood discovery?
FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF ANGELINE, THE GIRL WHO LIKES TO EAT FISH
Before knowing Jeff, if you were to put me through a fish taste test, I would fail miserably. The only white fish I could probably identify in soup was batang given my love for fish bee hoon soup. My family used to frequent a Zi Char restaurant a lot, and when given a choice between black pomfret and sole fish for their top-selling Belacan Fish dish, we would always stare back blankly at the server, and we would ask: which one has less bones? Which one is cheaper? Today, when I go back, I will confidently say sole fish as I now know how to have a preference in fish. I know what texture suits me, I know what taste suits me.
How did I develop that preference when I could not differentiate my snappers from my groupers, my soles from my pomfrets in the past? I guess it was through meals at Jeff’s house during our dating years. Meals at his house were always very elaborate, as his mum would take great effort to prepare many dishes once she knows that I am coming over. Fermented black bean wedgefish, authentic Teochew batang fish porridge, steamed Chinese pomfret, braised ang go li tail… I got my first taste of all of these at his house. I ate like a man at these meals, finishing up everything on the table, setting aside and forgetting all sensibilites that I should probably show to my boyfriend’s family. Dating and eventually marrying a guy from a fish family is probably akin to a girl marrying into a traditional Peranakan family; one way or another, you pick up your new family’s way of doing things.
Of course not everyone is as lucky as I am to receive this kind of “training” in seafood. Not everyone is able to taste such delicious home-cooked fish dishes. Not everyone is going to be able to share that passion for fish that I managed to grow since year 2007. This growing passion and journey that I had with seafood is one that is very personal and unique to my own life but I really wish that more people could share this journey with me.
Not many people can comprehend that someone like me would be the co-founder of Dishthefish. I can’t say that I have been cutting fish since I was a teenager, but I can say that I can empathise with those of you who never got a chance to know your fish. I really mean it when I say that Dishthefish is all about confidence, and that your first purchase with Dishthefish is taking a first step in this journey of seafood discovery.