Continuing my Sabah travel blog, this is the front of the Port View Seafood Restaurant along Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens in Kota Kinabalu. There is another branch of the same restaurant in another part of the town.
The restaurant is well-known in the town. It serves fresh seafood which you can pick and choose live and it goes straight from the fish tank into the cooking pot. But the Port View Seafood Restaurant also has a dark side. It has no qualms about misrepresentation.
When we arrived back in KK from Mt Kinabalu, we wanted to give ourselves a treat in celebration. So we went to this restaurant which was just across the road from our hotel. Yuen Chee and See Keong went with the restaurant captain to place our orders while the rest were seated inside.
They came back and announced that the captain had recommended the parrot fish to them. It was a bargain, Yuen Chee said. The captain told them that if we were to choose a live parrot fish from the tank, it would've cost us RM380 per kilo but since they also happened to have one that was just freshly dressed (meaning: dead, gutted and ready to be cooked), the cost would only be RM200 per kilo. That's almost at a half price, so my two friends grabbed at the deal.
The dishes came and the steamed fish was, of course, the highlight of the dinner. Never had we eaten such an expensive dish before. Here's how it looked like.
I took a bite. Yes, it was definitely fresh. No fishy smell at all. But it was not anything spectacularly different from other steamed fishes I'd taken before. So why was it so special? Why the high price tag even for a dead fish?
When we left the restaurant, we saw yet another dressed fish on offer to customers. Yes, confirmed Yuen Chee, it was the same type as the one we had just eaten. But why was it that the restaurant kept killing their parrot fish and offering them at half price to their customers when they could offer the live fish at full price? Was it a sales ploy and we had fallen for it?
Never mind, I thought, maybe there was a valid reason why their parrot fish all ended up dead at half price. I didn't bother to answer my own question. To me, it was enough that we had celebrated the Mt Kinabalu adventure with a bill that amounted to RM672.52. A once-in-a-lifetime expenditure. What irony. Only about two weeks ago, I had blogged about someone being fleeced by a restaurant in Gohtong Jaya. And here we were, paying a similar sum for our own fish dish.
The matter would have ended here except that when I came home to Penang, I saw this news item in The Star when I was catching up on the news. My eyes nearly popped out. Staring at me was a protected humphead wrasse. The similarities were too many: the scribbles/ marks around the eyes, colour of the body, shape of the head .... it couldn't be but yes, it is!
It wasn't a parrot fish that we ate in Kota Kinabalu; it was a humphead wrasse. I felt so disgusted with myself and enraged with the restaurant. If it kept telling its patrons that the wrasse was the parrot fish, it was nothing more than willful deception, taking advantage of most Chinese diners' fascination with exotic food, all in the name of profit. They didn't care that the fish was protected; they only cared that people can be deceived into parting with their good money. My friends and I wouldn't have ordered this fish if we had known more about its status then. We had helped to kill off a humphead wrasse and honestly, we don't feel good about it.
So the next time you are in Sabah, the next time you are in Kota Kinabalu, the next time you are in Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens, the next time you walk into the Port View Seafood Restaurant, please remember .... be careful about what you order. Unwittingly, you may end up contributing to the endangering and ultimately, the extinction of this fish.
Stay tuned for Part Five.
Note: You can do an Internet search on the words "humphead wrasse" and turn up hundreds of results. You may also see photographs of the wrasse and say that some don't look anything like the fish in my photos, especially this one in wikipedia. Actually, that's an adult wrasse in the wiki and it could measure anything between three and six feet long. Moreover, the photo was taken in deep waters and underwater photos are always masked by a greenish or bluish tinge due to light dispersion and refraction. Here's another resource from the Queensland Government which says that the fish is "generally bright electric blue to a duller blue/green, green or purplish blue. Juveniles and females are red-orange above and red-orange to white below." The wrasse we ate was just a juvenile, about a foot long. At that early stage in its life, it was still pink, although I oculdn't say that it was in the pink of health.