A saying goes "eating gray mullet's golden eggs can bring you lots of good fortune every year!" Mullet roe -- also called black gold (烏金) -- is a must-have seafood treat on New Year's Eve dinner tables and propitiously, the cold fronts of the Lunar New Year period provide good catches.
In Taiwan, a large number of mullet come together and lay golden eggs in Kaohsiung County's Chiehting Township. The area is famous for selling and serving mullet roe that not only satisfies the appetites of visitors, but also allows them to take in the beauty of Taiwan's southern coastline.
There is no better place than the Hsingta Evening Fish Market (興達黃昏漁市) on the shore of the Hsingta Harbor in southern Taiwan to purchase mullet roe.
Dusk is the most bustling time in the fish market. Reminiscent of a bygone era, fishermen yell into the crowd as they sell their catch in the open air, while pairs of mullet roe also catch people's attention and give the fish market more flavor and vitality.
A wide array of mullet roe can be selected from the Hsingta Harbor fish market, and since mullet processing factories are located nearby, people can also buy dried, processed mullet roe in the market.
Same-day catches of fresh, spotted crab, grass shrimp and mud crab stand out in vivid colors and arouse people's appetites. Their attractive prices make it doubly hard for people to resist.
If your stomach rumbles after shopping around the fish market, visitors can try a wide selection of seafood at stands in the cooked-food section of the market. Some recommended fresh dishes include oyster omelet, fried squid balls, squid potage and other fresh-made snacks.
A female mullet-roe processor called Auntie Yu-feng has nearly 20 years' experience in the roe-processing industry. In front of the factory one day in January, a large number of reddish mullet eggs -- the final catch of the spawning season -- were spread out under the sun.
But dried mullet roe is not simply processed by sun drying. Processing can be complicated and time-consuming.
While dexterously gathering fresh mullet roe that had been sun dried for a day, Auntie Yu-feng explained that sun drying is just a preliminary step, one that requires all-day attention. Roe needs to be turned over frequently for equal sunlight distribution and must be salted once every hour.
In general, processing mullet roes takes two to three days. The roe is cleaned of blood, gall bags, bits of intestines and membrane. It is washed thoroughly and drained, then rolled in fine salt: about 454g of salt per 4.5kg of roe.
The roe is removed from the salt after 6 to 12 hours and brushed well to remove excess salt. It is then laid out to dry.
The roe must be turned at least every hour during the first day and must be brought indoors in the evening. Boards and weights are placed on the roe during the first night or two to compress them slightly.
The roe is cured for about one week -- if drying conditions are good -- until it is reddish-brown and feels hard. Dried roe is dipped in melted beeswax, cooled for 15 minutes, wrapped in waxed paper and stored in a cool dry place.
When the mullet roe is buried in salt and hung to mature it continues to produce water, oil and salt crystals, so it's necessary to frequently wipe and turn over the roe. The mullet roe is flattened and reshaped with wood planks, after dark, and after a while, it are ready to be packaged for sale.