THE next time you find yourself looking for salted fish to go with Teochew porridge, try cured snoek from Namibia.
It is one of four new types of fish from the African country that hit supermarket shelves here last week. The snoek is chilled while the other three types of fish, hake, blue shark and pink ling, are frozen and come in easy-to-cook cuts such as fillet, steak and cutlet.
Except for the pink ling, which were imported from Australia last year, the other species are relatively new to Singapore.
While the fish may be unfamiliar to diners here, a taste test conducted by LifeStyle at Cantonese restaurant Peach Garden in Thomson Road showed that they were tasty (see story below).
Namibian fish has found its way here due to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority's (AVA) push for alternative food sources, part of a government plan to diversify food supplies and stabilise food prices.
Singapore imports fish mainly from Indonesia, Malaysia and Taiwan. Last year, a total of 167,253 tonnes of fish were imported.
The NTUC FairPrice chain of supermarkets is the first to bring in a seven-tonne shipment of fish from Namibia.
According to its spokesman, prices for these fish - between $6.50 for 500g of pink ling cod fillet and $11.95 for 500g of hake fillet - fall within the mid-range of frozen fish sold at the store.
Likewise, it is competitively priced relative to fresh fish. The frozen blue shark steak ($8.95 for 1kg), for example, retails for almost 25 per cent less than fresh shark steak from an Asian country.
Consumers who choose the chilled cured snoek ($4.95 for 400g) over traditional dried salted fish also stand to pocket more than 100 per cent in savings.
Namibia popped up on AVA's radar as an alternative source of seafood back in 2006 when its Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Dr Abraham Iyambo, met officials from the food safety regulatory body here to discuss the possibility of importing fish from the country.
AVA followed up by organising a trade mission there last October. Its participants included FairPrice and seafood wholesalers High Tide Frozen Food and Hai Sia Seafood.
Namibia, which sits on the south-west coast of Africa, harvests about 600,000 tonnes of fish annually from the Atlantic Ocean.
It is a significant player in the international fishing industry and the value of its catches ranks among the top 10 in the world.
It exports fish such as hake, horse mackerel and sardines mainly to Europe and other South African countries.
Besides having an ample supply of fish, Namibia's fish processing plants also abide by the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point, an internationally recognised food safety system endorsed by AVA, making the country a suitable source of fish for Singapore.
Namibian seafood, however, is not altogether foreign to Singapore. Nearly three tonnes of its frozen oysters were imported by local seafood wholesaler, Global Aquaculture, last year and supplied to hotels and restaurants.
And the amount of seafood imported from Namibia looks set to increase.
Mr Lee Boon Cheow, 68, managing director of High Tide Frozen Food, which supplies seafood to major supermarkets here, is considering importing fish from Namibia to Singapore as well as China.
He says: 'By importing fish to both countries, I'll be able to enjoy economies of scale and keep costs down.'
Likewise, Mr Ang Jwee Herng, 58, director of Hai Sia Seafood is negotiating with Namibian seafood operators to import frozen lobsters.
'Their lobsters are value-for-money. The meat is sweet and firm,' he says.
As to why he did not consider importing Namibian fish, Mr Ang says: 'The types of fish they sell are unfamiliar to consumers here but lobsters are lobsters and need no introduction.'
Indeed, consumers here may be price-sensitive but they also tend to hold firmly to their eating habits and preferences.
Housewife Ng Bing Tang, 58, says: 'I don't know how fish from Namibia tastes so I'm not keen to try.'
A FairPrice spokesman says the fish has been 'selling quite well'.
She adds, however, that the supermarket will encourage shoppers to buy fish from Namibia, available at all major FairPrice outlets, by offering cooked samples for tasting at FairPrice Xtra in Ang Mo Kio Hub this month.
The promoters will also share recipes for cooking the fish with consumers.
LIFESTYLE obtained samples of the fish from Namibia, and asked Cantonese restaurant Peach Garden to come up with dishes using them. Its Hong Kong-born executive chef, Chan Weng Kwong, prepared the dishes and the tasters were Madam Veronica Tan (left) and Madam Angela Ho (right), co-owners of the restaurant chain, Sunday Times restaurant critic Wong Ah Yoke and reporter Huang Lijie.
What: A member of the snake mackerel family, it is commonly found in the Atlantic Ocean. It is blue and grows to between 50 and 60cm long on average.
Cost: $4.95 for 400g of chilled cured snoek fish
Preparation: Pan-fried and served with mini claypot rice
Verdict: The cured fish is much too salty to be eaten on its own but goes well with the claypot rice and may be a suitable substitute for local salted fish in other dishes that require it.
Pink Ling or Kingklip
What: This cusk-eel fish is characterised by a pinkish body marked with dark spots. It is native to South African waters and grows to between 50 and 75cm long.
Cost: $6.50 for 500g of frozen pink ling cod fillet
Preparation: Baked with Japanese sake
Verdict: The meat was much too firm and chewy and lacked the oily smooth-ness of most cod fish. Might need a longer cooking time.
What: A cod-like fish, the version available here is the shallow water cape hake and it is native to South African waters. This silvery-white fish grows to between 30 and 50cm long.
Cost: $11.95 for 500g of frozen hake fillet
Preparation: Steamed with minced ginger
Verdict: The testers found the meat to be a tad firm and lacking in sweetness. The chef whipped up an alternative version - pan-frying the fish before braising it with flat fish and garlic. Everyone loved the second version where the meat tasted smooth and flavourful.
What: This shark is highly migratory and present in various waters including the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It is blue on the dorsal side and grows to between 1.7 and 2.4m on average.
Cost: $8.95 for 1kg of frozen blue shark steak
Preparation: Done in two styles - sauteed with asparagus and honey peas in a spicy sauce and braised with fresh gluten puff, eggplant and garlic
Verdict: While the testers expected the meat to be tough as is typical of shark meat, the fish was surprisingly smooth. Both methods of cooking worked well.
PHOTOS: BETTY CHUA, DESMOND LIM
This article was first published in The Sunday Times on Mar 2, 2008.