[Updated, Aug 2019]
This blog post offers a fairly comprehensive description of every business in the Fish Market, and what their offerings are. It starts with with Fresh fish, and then moves through all the prepared food offerings, based on my visit in 2018.
Anyone who is a fan of fish (as in eating it) should consider a few hours at the Sydney Fish Markets, located in the Pyrmont neighborhood of the Greater Sydney area. According to their site, they are the largest market “of their kind” in the southern hemisphere (but that’s actually a very vague statement, so I’m not sure what it means exactly). That said, the place is fairly large, a bit labyrinth like, and offers an almost overwhelming number of options to the first time visitor (so reading a blog post like this before going really could help you make some decisions). While I’m guessing at these numbers, the place seemed to be 50% a full-fledged fish market offering freshly caught raw fish (or what the Aussies call “wet fish”), about 40% is fast-food stalls where you can gorge-out on pre-cooked (displayed) fishy delights — a lot of deep fried or smothered in cheese– until you need to loosen your pants, and about 10% is normal sit down restaurants (for the boring) that specialize in fish — most of which are Chinese food (probably because the majority of the tourists that like to come here seem to be from China — and in my whole life I’ve only met ONE person who didn’t like Chinese food).
As you walk around, especially if you get there earlier in the morning (before 11am), you quickly realize that this place is a bona-fide fish market, in that it is the city’s wholesale (i.e. bulk sales) hub for products to restaurants, and other businesses, as well as offering retail sales (small sales) to the public. I’ve been to a few “fisherman’s wharf’s” over the past few years, and till and as such was expecting this one, like those, to have degraded into a tourist trap (because of changes in the fishing industry) … that is not the case here. This is the real McCoy. The auctions of the morning’s catch begin at around 6:30 am, while the onsite restaurants and other shops intended for the public open up for business a few hours later, at 9am and close at 4pm.
If you spend enough time walking around the various shops (and peak into corners) you’ll find all sorts of workers descaling ….
and deboning some of the freshest fish I’ve ever seen for sale to the public….
…as well as folks who are busy shucking oysters. And, if you pay attention you’ll begin to realize what isn’t there… namely, ANY of that fishy smell that one comes to expect around places that sell ‘fresh’ fish… which usually isn’t actually all that fresh… and ALL of the fish here are clear of eye and firm of flesh [for those of you who don’t know how to identify fresh fish, read the article linked] in a way you just don’t see much of anymore — which tells you just how fresh they are — even at the high end local fish stores with the best offerings… this place is just fresher than anything you’re used to.
Like I said, about half of the market is just that … as in you can buy an impressive variety of fresh fish to take home and cook. There are (to my count) five of this type of fresh fish shops scattered around the fish market area:
De Costi Seafood, which is not in the main building (but rather is in a sort of strip mall that lines one side) was the first of these shops that I entered…
In addition to fish to cook, De Costi’s sells a small amount of ‘prepared’ fish that you can eat outside while gazing out at the bay (at your own risk … the seagulls here are aggressive and will try to steal your food)… such as the ever popular sashimi, which I soon learned pretty much every one of the fresh fish shops offered. This, you can either buy in pre-cut sets designed for one person (usually of the most popular salmon/tuna mixes), or you can ask them to assemble platters of the stuff for your family/group (although there is a minimum number of grams of each fish that you have to buy to qualify for this service).
Although MOST of the customers go for the salmon or the tuna (and as such about half the case was just of those two), at the other end of the case was a wide array of choices that included local cuttlefish, imported surf clams from Canada and scallops from Japan, all of them sashimi/sushi grade [PLEASE do not just buy raw fish, cut it up and eat it uncooked, as it might make you very sick! Please read this to understand the difference between sushi grade fish and fish intended to be cooked. That said, flash freezing is process that deep freezes the fish to super low temperatures that your normal home freezer wasn’t designed to achieve (in effect killing off parasites with cold instead of heat), so NO you can’t just stick it in the freezer at home and save yourself the money.]
In addition to Sashimi, De Costi offers some other foods you could buy and eat including pre-cooked lobster, smoked salmon, fish pâtés, and shucked oysters on the half-shell… as well as some semi-prepared foods, like “marinara” mixes (combinations of raw seafood) for you to take home and cook at home, with pasta, or in seafood soups and stews.
But for the most part De Costi’s is about raw fish… of every shape and variety that the Australian shores offer.
But like I said, De Costi’s is just one of about five different stores in the Market that sell to fresh raw fish to the public.
Musumeci’s Seafood, is another of the fresh fish shops, and is also located in a separate building from the main structure.
Of ALL the shops it’s the only one I found to be handing out samples (from the woman standing behind the little table in the middle of the picture above). These “tasties” were of their smoked and/or roasted salmon, and pâtés made from salmon or trout.
Once inside the offerings were pretty similar to what I found at De Costi’s, only they seemed to have more in the way of shellfish and less in the way of the scaled variety … and what fish they did have looked a little, the worse for wear… just not quite AS fresh… but that could have been because the facilities upon which they were displayed all looked a little long in the tooth and distorted the overall appearance (at a glance).
This store seemed to focus a much larger percentage of their counter space than De Costi had, to the sashimi trade, with more in the way of pre-sliced combo offerings and side dishes like seaweed salad… so more aimed at the tourists than to local cooks… I think…
Hidden behind Musumeci’s (closer to the water) is another store by the name of Claudio’s Quality Seafoods, which to me looked better and fresher (more akin to De Costi) in terms of their fish…
and this place had an even better shellfish selection than Musumeci’s had (so the best of both worlds so to speak), a variety of which was being sold pre-cooked (and of course they had the obligatory sashimi as well)…. and it is also where I found the guys in red doing the filleting in the picture towards the top of the blog… (I was beginning to think that the presence of folks visibly filleting seafood is one of the attributes you want to keep an eye out for when judging these places. If you can’t see anyone actually prepping fish for sale… move on to the next store.
I also saw something at Claudio’s Quality Seafoods that I didn’t notice anywhere else in the market, shark steaks for sale. They have this large piece of shark sitting there (see image above). They can’t display the whole thing since small ones are about 10 feet long, and really big ones can be as large as 20 feet. Instead they put out this very large slab, and then you tell them how many “steaks” you want, and they cut them off with something akin to a chainsaw. (I wasn’t lucky enough to see a slice being cut, but there was a local guy taking around a group of Asian visitors … a small handful of people… and I overheard him describing the process to them.)
That said… From all of the reviews that I read before coming here (which I think I agree with), Peter’s Sydney Fish Market is considered the best of all the shops in the entire Market. It has a very large and bright location within the prime real estate of the main building and sells almost (pretty much) EVERYTHING that all of the other fish stores sell… both cooked and raw (didn’t see any shark) … and in addition includes almost all of the most popular dishes that the food stalls have on offer (although, based on my personal observations, it sells the duplicated dishes at a slower rate, so the food stalls cooked offerings might be more recently prepared — that said, there are dishes here you can’t find elsewhere and these dishes therefore move faster).
In the center of the store Peters offers a VERY large selection of fresh fish and unlike the other places in the market that sell the same, Peters will even cook your fish for you, but for a fee….(in the USA stores that do this do it for free)… But, I noticed that fee varies with, is the fish already filleted or not… if not, it costs about $5 AUD more per kilogram.
Where in the US stores that cook it for you tend to either grill or steam (rarely both), at Peter’s in addition to these two your fish selection can also be stir or deep fried … and with a whole variety of spices and flavorings from which to choose from… and there are also side dishes on offer.
But this was only the start of what Peters offered in terms of prepared foods…. you could also have them prepare shellfish to order, or chose from their pre-cooked offerings….
Among the shellfish you could buy (already cooked), was something I had heard about on a travel Food Channel show, ‘Australian bugs’. From what I learned from the show, these are variety of shellfish that are picked up by accident, i.e., garbage fish that are not considered desirable by the fish trade, that Aussies have taken to eating as a “local dish” but that, like I said, no one else eats. (I tried them, I wasn’t impressed).
[… ironically, even though the gelatinous Blobfish, which you do see for sale in Korean fish-markets, originates in Australian waters, I didn’t see ANY of it for sale in the Sydney Fish Market. I first learned of the fish when living in Korea, when my best friend there while walking me through his town’s food market told me that blobfish was almost inedible with no muscle and just a sort of gelatinous mass of blubber … but he said that Koreans during The War were so desperate for any food source they could fine, that they had figured out a way of processing its flesh with chemicals to make it so… kind of like how olives straight from the tree are very bitter and inedible, and need to be cured first]
In addition to cooked fish, Peter’s offers a not only the obligatory Sashimi option, but also sells pre-prepared sushi for $2.50 AUD each (fish on rice, rather than straight sashimi) … allowing you to pick and choose from their offerings which pieces you wanted in your set. Be Warned, I noticed — and confirmed this by asking — that once noon rolled around, no new sushi offerings were added, and you will be stuck with what was left over from the morning. So, if you want sushi from Peter’s, buy it early… [That said, one of the food court places offers a much more limited selection of cooked sushi that’s sold adjacent to its hot food (blech — cooked sushi?), and there is also a nondescript hole-in-the-wall sushi joint within the main building called, “Sushi Bar at the Fish Market”, which makes it to order, but from my observations — I left at around 12:30 did barely any business other than selling drinks during the early part of the day when Peter’s offering had not yet sold out]
In addition, Peter’s was selling freshly made before your eyes “Aburi” shellfish … which translates to flame seared … these are scallops completely covered in cheese and other stuff… and hence so far off my diet that I couldn’t taste them…. Almost all of the food stalls sell the same, but these seemed to be the only ones that were grilled to order.
The only major competitor to Peter’s is probably Nickolas’s Seafood, which to my eye was offering a variety of 30% fresh/wet fish and was by far more, like almost 70% a cooked foods sort of place….
Really MOST of what they had, was cooked stuff for the tourist market, like at the food stalls… although like Peter’s it has sushi, but not as much…
but Nicholas’s distinct product seemed to be these very pretty platters of seafood (the little plastic round containers hold the Aussie version of cocktail sauce which is heavy on the mayo… blech). The scallop platter may seem overpriced, but scallops sticks at Doyle’s or Christy’s with five on a stick were $10 AUD… so you sort of have to do the math… and you can of course take home the shells if you so wish.
While Peter’s seemed to specialize in fresh (or what the Aussies refer to as wet) fish, Nickolas’s seemed to do more “swimming” shellfish — live and in a tank. While there I saw this almost comical scene when a customer came in wanting to buy a six ginormous lobsters… which when taken out of the tanks and laid on the floor for the customer to inspect… started skittering around said floor in a desperate attempt to escape and freaked out this little girl.
Pre-cooked foods only options
So, like I said before, while all of the above options also sold food you can eat on the spot such as the obligatory sashimi…. or cooked lobster or sushi in some cased, about 40% of Sydney’s Fish Market consists fast-food type stalls [not made to order restaurants], where you can pick from the displayed pre-made fish delicacies (although most also have some stuff cooked to order, usually for larger family sized trays, etc). So for instance, adjacent to De Costi’s in the strip mall type area is the…
Salty Squid, which while they do make a few things fresh (burgers and the like, for those who do not like fish), is essentially no different than a fried fish fast-food place…
The first such shop you’ll notice as you enter the building is Doles, (it’s at the very entrance)…. here they have a food stall sets up that sells flame grilled fresh fish on a stick…
This was hands down my favorite of the places because they don’t smother it in oil, and will even do with completely without oil if you ask… even corn on the cob (with no butter)… very healthy food.
Right behind this healthy option stall they have a larger restaurant setup that sells oysters, and all foods unhealthy … either deep-fried or smothered in cheese or cream sauce… which in my mind utterly defeats the point of eating seafood.
Across the hallway from Doyles, still at the front entrance is
Christie’s Sea Foods is yet another food court/stall type business whose dishes vary from deep-fried to grilled — but I noticed a lot of oil added to their grilled foods
and adjacent to Christie’s is The Fish Market Cafe — which to me looked to be the least healthy of all of them, but also probably the most popular of these places, as it seemed to be doing the most business in selling prepared foods.
While most of the customers opted to sit indoors to eat their food, the fish market is directly adjacent to the water and there is seating outside for those who want to enjoy a view with their food.
That said, there are more than a few seagulls and such who hang out at this location, and these are fairly aggressive birds who will happily steal your food from you (some online sources I read said that it’s not unknown for them to dive bomb you for it), which is why almost every table is covered with an umbrella or located inside a sort of tent (think not only dive bombing seagulls but also seagull poop)… they’re set up more to help protect your lunch from the bird, rather than you from the sun (although they do that too).
if you ARE intending to make a meal of it, the ONLY cooked veggies I saw were carbs… your choices are corn on the cob … which I had… rice or noodles… if you want veggies or fruit with your meal, at the far end of the market there’s a small fruit and veggies market that also offers up things like fruit salad and chocolate covered fruit.
For your dessert options there is also a bakery and coffee shop inside the main building. And for those in your party who do not like fish... (in addition to the burgers at the Salty Squid) there’s an Italian deli that will make sandwiches. … That said if your traveling companion is like mine, a vegetarian… well those folks should pretty much just stay home because this place will most likely just offend them. [My vegetarian friend is also the only person I’ve ever met who refused to eat Chinese food.]
Sit down Restaurants:
Finally, the fish market consists of about 10% sit down restaurants where you order from the menu like normal. Two of these are located on the same strip mall type building where De Costi’s is located, just past the Salty Squid fast food joint… that said, neither of these seemed to be doing a load of business during the whole time I was there (and I was there till 12:30). The Third is a restaurant I only discovered after I started composing this blog, and looked like someplace I’d like to try, so I went back and did so… Fisherman’s Wharf Seafood is a fancy Chinese place located on the 2nd floor of the Market’s main building via some stairs — there is an elevator to it at the very back of the building, but its hidden behind the fruit and veg market, the elevator at the front of the building will NOT get you there –and during the market’s open hours/lunch they do DIM SUM… yo mama!!! Monday to Friday : 11am – 3pm Saturday and Sunday : 10am – 3pm I checked it out later in this trip and gave it a separate review which you can read if you follow the link.
The only sit down restaurant I took photos of was the Sea Emperor….