It is often said that one should do what the Romans do when in Rome. I am definitely a fan of embracing the best of what a place has to offer when travelling.
So when my mum and her girlfriends came to Sydney for a short vacation last week, there were so many new restaurants to check out but the one place they cannot go past is the Sydney Fish Market, heart of Sydney’s seafood paradise just 2km south of the CBD in Pyrmont.
The market is a fascinating place because it begins as early as 5am where truckloads of fresh seafood and fishing boats come to Blackwattle Bay with their daily catch. The SFM has been using the Dutch clock auction since 1989 and is held at 5.30am every weekday. It is a silent auction which begins at the highest price and drops until a bid is made. The starting price is usually set about $2 above what the product is expected to receive. Two clocks auction seafood simultaneously to ensure the product is sold quickly.
Under the Dutch clock auction, approximately 1,000 crates of seafood are sold every hour. On average, each crate weighs 23 kilograms. SFM sells around 2,700 crates at every auction, or 65 tonnes of fresh seafood every day.
While the majority of produce is sold through the Dutch clock auction, a traditional voice auction is used for live crustaceans and sashimi tuna.
Over the recent years, the SFM has seen an increase in human traffic each day and I have found the crowds during weekends to be overwhelming especially during lunch time.
Breakfast at Sydney Fish Market
On this occasion, we have decided to go on an early Monday morning to check out the seafood, avoid the huge crowds and have a seafood breakfast.
Of course, an important thing to ensure an enjoyable meal is to bring some of your cutlery from home – chopsticks, utensils, plates, sauces, wine glasses, wine cooler etc.
We have had many enjoyable picnics with our trusty picnic bag that neatly carries all that essential items for a meal.
One way to work up an appetite is to take a stroll around all the seafood retailers at the SFM. De Costi Seafoods located outside the main complex is one of the largest.
Prawns, both raw and cooked are one of the favourite items with seafood lovers. It is especially popular during the Christmas period where the SFM is open for trading for 54 consecutive hours leading up to Christmas Day.
Snapper is one of the best fish to grill on a BBQ because it is not a fatty fish.
It is a marvel to watch the oyster shuckers at work. The good ones are reputed to be able to shuck between 6 – 8 oysters per minute.
There is a quite a number of oyster farms dotted along the New South Wales north and south coast. Sydney rock oysters are a little smaller with a yellowish tinge and an intense seafood flavour. Pacific oysters are a little larger, whiter in colour and creamy in texture.
Scallops in the shell are great for baking in a herb and garlic butter sauce.
The cooked seafood such as oyster Kilpatrick, mornay or lobster thermidor always looks good but one should be a little cautious because they could be a hit and miss with so many pre-cooked seafood at the counters.
I generally avoid these cooked seafood as I find it is always fresher to cook it at home.
A 2011 Josef Chromy Chardonnay has a ripened apples on the nose with good oak complexity. It is a luscious mouthful and an excellent choice with seafood.
Cooked prawns are so fresh, they are always firm and crunchy with the salty goodness of the sea. My favourite dip is a bit of wasabi in light soy sauce.
Being visitors from overseas. my mum and her friends are keen on the classic stir-fried lobster with ginger, shallots and noodles.
Customers can choose the live lobsters from the fish tanks on display and it will be weighed. Then pay the amount at the counter and go find a seat. Depending on the crowds, these live seafood dishes normally take about twenty minutes for the chefs to prepare.
This lobster is approximately 2 kg and at $104.50/kg, this dish is not exactly cheap at around $210.
From the live lobster, customers also have the added option of assigning part of the meat to be eaten sashimi style while the rest of the lobster stir fried with ginger and shallots.
This lobster sashimi cannot possibly be any fresher. It is sweet, the texture slightly firm and crunchy. As far as I am concerned, there are only 2 ways to eat this raw lobster – on its own to savour the pure taste of lobster or dip it into some light soy sauce with a touch of wasabi.
Live green-lip abalone are also available from the seafood tanks and we choose abalone stir-fried with garlic and ginger.
The abalone is sliced very thinly and quickly tossed in a very hot wok. The cardinal sin is overcooking an expensive seafood item like abalone and it becomes tough and rubbery.
This abalone is served in its own shell that acts like a plate. I find abalone to be almost neutral in taste except for its slight seafood aroma. Asians, especially the Chinese are fixated with this dish and I suspect it is appreciated for its slightly firm and rubber-like texture.
The giant crab claws are slightly chilled and comes with a few wedges of lemon.
Unlike crabs and prawns, the peeling process for these giant claws are relatively easy.
Part of the lower shell of each crab claws has been removed. All you need to do is hold up the claw and the long piece of meat will easily fall out of the shell.
There are at least 4 -5 different sashimi bars at in the SFM and they serve anything from tuna, salmon, kingfish, prawn, lobster, squid and octopus sashimi.
Love it or loath it, SFM is truly a fascinating place where seafood lovers can feast their eyes on almost any imaginable seafood and vivid images of how they can be cooked at home. After all, Sydney is an amazing city for seafood. Where else can you get such fresh varieties of seafood at 7 am in the morning?
Try to avoid the heavy weekend crowds and if you choose to make a trip, it is worthy to buy home some seafood since it is so fresh.
After lunch, we take another tour of the SFM to ogle at more seafood but this time, it is to buy as well. Foldable eskis and ice-packs are available for sale from most of the seafood retailers should you decide to purchase larger amounts of seafood.
Mum and her 3 friends ended up with 4 big eskis of seafood – whole salmon, abalone and lobsters to be checked into their flight back to Malaysia.
All in all, a very fruitful trip to the Sydney Fish Market.
Sydney Fish Market is the largest seafood market of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and the world’s second largest seafood market in terms of variety outside of Japan.
A working fish market, SFM sources product both nationally and internationally and trades over 14,000 tonnes of seafood annually – with up to a hundred species of sustainable Australian seafood traded every day.
SFM employs over fifty staff to organise the weekday wholesale auction, promote Sydney Fish Market as the centre of seafood excellence and operates the Sydney Seafood School.
There is also the Sydney Seafood School where regular cooking classes with prominent Sydney chefs are regularly held.
Since opening in 1989, SSS has played an important part of persuading Sydney residents to eat more fish. The School is considered to be one of Australia’s leading cooking schools. Over 13,000 people come to classes each year.
History of the Sydney Fish Market
Until 1945, the marketing of fish in New South Wales was conducted by licensed fish agents operating out of Haymarket fish market, or by unlicensed operators elsewhere in the state.
In 1945, the New South Wales government amended the Fisheries and Oyster Farms Act to effectively cancel all licenses held by Sydney fish agents and transformed the marketing of fish in New South Wales to the Chief Secretary’s Department.
The Chief Secretary’s Department established a regulated market system and controlled the centralized market in Sydney until 1994.
At the same time, the marketing in New South Wales outside Sydney was conducted through a number of fishermen’s cooperatives operating along the coastal areas of NSW.
The year 1964 saw the formation of the Fish Marketing Authority, a new yet still state run body, which assumed responsibility for the conduct and management of SFM previously maintained by the Chief Secretary’s Department.
Two years later in 1966, SFM moved from the Haymarket area of Sydney to its current location at Blackwattle Bay, Pyrmont.
In those days, fish were sold using the labour intensive, traditional ‘voice’ auction system.
This system saw buyers assemble outside the sales bay fence, where an assistant would hold up samples of fish from each box for buyers to bid until the highest price was reached.
Sydney Fish Market Pty Ltd was formed on the 28 October 1994, when the New South Wales overnment privatised the marketing of seafood.
Since then two equal shareholders, the Catchers Trust and the Sydney Fish Market Tenants and Merchants Pty Ltd have jointly owned the company.
Shortly after the New South Wales State government deregulated fish marketing over a two-stage, five-year period, as legislated monopoly was not acceptable under private ownership.
The first stage of deregulation came in November 1997 when fishermen’s cooperatives were permitted to sell directly to Sydney buyers.
Total deregulation followed in November 1999, when New South Wales catchers could supply direct to any buyer in possession of a Fish Receiver’s Permit.
The result, SFM no longer holds a monopoly over the sale of seafood into the Sydney region.
SFM introduced a computerised Dutch auction in October 1989, dramatically evolving the way fish was to be sold.
Modelled on the ‘reverse’ auction system, which has been used for over 130 years to sell tulips in Amsterdam, SFM’s auctioneers set the price approximately $2 higher than the assumed market price.
The clock then winds down at a rate of $1 per revolution and the price drops until a buyer stops the clock by pressing a button.
The successful buyer then selects a number of crates from the ‘lot’.
In February 2004, state-of-the-art digital video projectors were installed to enhance the auction clocks. These large screens face toward around 150 to 200 buyers each day.
Through this reverse auction system, SFM can now offer buyers the fastest and most efficient method of trading seafood, whilst still ensuring the best possible price in open competition.
Approximately 1,000 crates or 20,000 kg of seafood are sold every hour during SFM auctions.
That’s an average of 2,700 crates, or 50 tonnes of fresh seafood, traded every day.
In 1989 SFM established Sydney Seafood School. The School now attracts 13,000 participants a year and hosts an enviable list of Australia’s finest guest chefs.
In 2001, SFM launched its innovative new online-based seafood trading system, SFMlive that operates in addition to the Dutch auction.
SFMlive now provides traders with advanced facilities for direct online seafood sales including wild harvest, aquaculture and frozen products, taking fish trading to a new level.
Onsite, SFM hosts six seafood retailers, a bottle shop, fruit and vegetable market, bakery, sushi bar, restaurants, gift shop and delicatessen.
So dear readers do you enjoy seafood and if so, what is your favourite kind of seafood?
Sydney Fish Market
Locked Bag 247
Bank street, Pyrmont 2009
New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9004 1100
Trading hours: Every day from 7am – 4pm except Christmas Day
Go to www.sydneyfishmarket.com.au for find out more about trading hours, auction times and other events.
Sydney Seafood School
Manager: Roberta Miur
Tel: +61 2 9004 1111
Tel:+61 2 95524339
Fish Market Cafe
Shop 4, Waterfront Arcade
Sydney Fish Market
Tel: +61 2 9660 4280
Sydney Fish Market
Tel: +61 2 9552 3333
Shop 6, Sydney Fish Market
Tel: +61 2 9660 4255
Sushi Bar at the Fish Market
Waterfront Arcade< Sydney Fish Market
Tel: +61 2 9552 2269
Shop 4, Sydney Fish Market
Tel: +61 2 9552 2555
Waterfront Arcade, Sydney Fish Market
Tel: +61 2 9660 5998
Fisherman’s Wharf Seafood
Level 1, Bank street
Sydney Fish Market
Tel: +61 2 9660 9888
Opening hours: 7 days Breakfast, lunch and dinner