And now for something completely different...

Welcome back to The Bite, Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.

Take a moment to re-read that last line of The Bite’s intro blurb. “If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.” When Robert and I conceived of The Bite, it wasn’t to be just prepared foods served at restaurants and cafes, but also bottled and canned goods and other assorted comestibles unique to the area’s ethnic grocers. So, with more than a dozen great reviews of traditional foods under our belt, I began harassing Robert to try something a little more… fringe. On a visit to New York Mart yesterday, I told him that if he wanted to keep his job he’d eat and review whatever I bought him. To warm him up to the idea, I said I’d eat it, too. Below is his writeup. My thoughts are in parenthesis. – Ned.


Yes, this post’s title looks strange to me too, but I need to get it right. It should read New York Mart: Roasted Eel with Fermented Black Beans. There. That’s better. Isn’t it? (No.)

Children, this week’s Bite takes a further leap into the unknown and enters New York Mart to try one of the shelf-stable pre-packaged goods so common in the ethnic food stores of the neighborhood, but oh-so-strange to this Brooklyn Boy (Read “guilo.”). It’s time to discover some of the foodstuffs so beloved by our neighborhood’s immigrant population that they import it from their homeland.

I was joined by our illustrious publisher Ned Berke (The Magnificent) for a trip down the aisles, where he choose roasted eel with fermented black beans for our evening’s meal. I have to admit, watching Ned wander the aisles with a mischievous glean in his eyes as he searched for the most “exotic” (Read “disgusting.”) food for this week’s post made me more than a little nervous (He was sweating. No joke.). What was he going to choose and would I be able to stomach it?

Ned turned down my suggestions of pickled bok choy, pork fu, or fish jerky and settled on a little red can of roasted eel. Secretly, I was relieved, but I sure wasn’t going to admit that to Mr. Berke (I’ll remember that for next time.).  Thankfully there was an English title on the can. This wasn’t going to be a total surprise. I knew what to expect. I’ve had eel before, freshly caught in the waters of Long Island, but I’ve never had it canned. Or packed with fermented black beans. (Truth be told, I was sold on the Old Fisherman logo. That dude looks so happy.)

Now, I haven’t had canned fish, other than tuna, in at least 15 years and I was looking for the key to open the can. The last time I had sardines, they were packed with a key. So was canned ham. Where was the key on this and how the hell were we going to open it without one?

Way back in the old days, oddly shaped canned goods were packed with a key that you attached to a metal tab on the side or top of the can. You would turn the key, which pulled the tab, which in turn removed a thin metal strip from the can which would split the can in two or remove the top. There wasn’t one on this can. What was I going to do?

Was it eel? Or an old man?

After explaining my predicament and being greeted with raucous laughter from the young-uns in the house we broke out a can opener and opened the can of roasted eel with fermented black beans. (This part was like watching a caveman discover the first tool.)

I can’t report that opening the can was a pleasant experience, but it certainly wasn’t  unfamiliar. The smell reminded me of cat food (splattered on a decomposing raccoon corpse.). Cheap cat food.  Getting the cover off the fish, I was surprised to see how neatly it was canned.  Little pieces of eel were topped with black beans and a light red sauce.


(Let’s step back a moment here. Robert is seriously underplaying the smell of this stuff. He opened it near his face and immediately looked as if someone had slapped him. I was standing over him, and thought, “It can’t be that bad.” Then it wafted up and hit me, and this is when the first pang of regret shook my body. Regret and disgust. I guess more disgust. I looked up at Robert’s daughter, Laura, who reflected it pretty well. To the right is that smell in photographic terms. Back to Robert.)

Don’t get me wrong, I can’t say the eel made my mouth water in anticipation, but  it didn’t make me gag either. Was that a bone? (It was.) Was the eel skinned? (It was.) Only one way to find out.

I reached in and took a piece. Placing it in my mouth I was surprised to taste the traditional Chinese red barbecue sauce that you’d get on ribs. This wasn’t too bad, I may even like this, but then I chewed the eel. Ugh. The dried out eel had a texture reminiscent of a dried sponge.  Add the glops of gelatinousness sauce and, frankly, one bite was more than enough.

(A little more must be said about the texture. The taste of the item itself was sufficiently drowned in the barbecue sauce that it wasn’t very fishy, and once the smell dissipated this was actually something that didn’t revolt me. Except for the damn texture. Parts of it flaked and crumbled in my mouth, and small shards of soft bone stabbed at my gums. “Dry sponge” is pretty close to sum it up, but the whole thing seemed designed not to cooperate with your tongue, almost on an emotional level. It was angry dry sponge. Angry, and vengeful.)

I didn’t offer an opinion and watched as Ned tried it. He dove in with gusto and took a large fork full of the eel. After a second I asked him what he thought. “I don’t want to insult you,” he said. “Except for the texture, this tastes just like the pork jerky you made.”

I liked that jerky. Thanks. Jerk. (You’re welcome.)

New York Mart, 2309 Avenue U, (718) 891-8828.

We’ll be doing these adventurous takes on The Bite every once in a while. If you have a suggestion of something to try, leave it in the comments or shoot us an e-mail.


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  • http://www.flickr.com/knightmare6 Knightmare6

    The fruit, Durian, is always fun. Get the fresh ones though, not the frozen ones. Also be sure to video tape it as you guys chop into it.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

      I’ve seen areas taped off as a contaminated zone after someone broke open a durian.

      They could try the wafers. (Heh-heh-heh)

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001/2339995552/

      • http://www.flickr.com/knightmare6 Knightmare6

        It’s against the law to open one in public in Singapore, LOL

        • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

          They are very smart.

          For a really fun experience Ned and Robert could set up a stand on the boardwalk to give away samples. I’m sure they’ll be quite popular.

  • nolastname

    Excellent writing. Good reading, poor dog.
    I agree with texture. If steak had a texture like a tomato (the part where the seeds are) or squid it would never see my stomach.

  • nolastname

    Fermented? How about one of those thousand year eggs?

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    Next time, Fried Dace. Yum!

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

      That has a variety with black beans too.

      • Anonymous

        You want to kill us Lisanne?

        “In short, it’s heart-disease in a can. In one meal, you get more salt than your body can safely digest in a month, a concentration of pollutants that can only come from a Chinese river, and several desert-spoons full of oil. It’s a heart attack, ulcers and bowel cancer, all in one handy portable package.”

        http://www.netnewsasia.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=69&Itemid=67

        • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

          That explains why it’s so heavy. It doesn’t go down easy at all.

          But this is an acquired taste too.

          Might be much safer getting a roll of plum wafers next time you’re in New York Market. Can’t go wrong with that.

  • Ray Johnson

    “When Robert and I conceived of The Bite” — I just can’t resist this one, Ned. Not that I would have ever been the first person ever in the world to fight for one item or one entree reviews, but when my editor scoffed at me, — I kept eating, but couldn’t say a word.

  • http://www.njluxurymotors.com Arthur Borko

    I wish you guys would have invited me :-(

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

      I don’t think you would have liked the roasted eel any better than they did.

      or did you have a clever idea of your own?

    • Anonymous

      Sorry Arthur, this was a totally spur of the moment thing. When we plan one, you’re definitely in.

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

        Aren’t you planning to write an article on the “wonderful durian”. Arthur loves durians.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=839675042 Holly Renee Reinhardt

          I would just love them to film the experience.

          • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

            I would want a video record, but I certainly would not want to be in the room.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=688965509 Ariella Kadosh-Weiser

    We have an international market here in D.C. a block up from my apartment. They have a small can of boiled silkworms. Try that!

  • nolastname
  • Barkingspider7

    YIKES! Eel in a can? How much more disgusting can food (?) get? I give you both credit for eating it. You could never get me to try this. I’d take the pink slip. Yuck!

  • AngelinaTala

    I enjoyed this…it was a fun read =]

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=839675042 Holly Renee Reinhardt

    “I was joined by our illustrious publisher Ned Berke (The Magnificent)”

    HAHAHAHA.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Hooson/100002939023994 Paul Hooson

    What are you even talking about? That eel is absolutely delicious. This is a wonderful seafood delicacy. Well worth the price for an item that tastes so good. Nearly as satisfying as moderately priced caviar for taste in my view. I love this excellent product by Old Fisherman brand.

    • Nick

      I’m with you, Paul. The review is funny, but it’s exaggerated big time. This stuff is pretty good. I love the sweet glaze on it.