Saveur Magazine just listed them as one of the Top 100 Food Trends of 2020. They’re the # 1 Snack in Singapore. Paul Newman Brands make them as American dog treats. They’re umami bombastic, keto approved, and quickly becoming the new pork cracklin’ replacement of 2021. They’re crispy fish skin crisps. They’re to Malaysians what gas stop Taquis are to Latin Americans – delicious and addicting. Is it so weird that a throwaway part has become a beloved snack? Not really. What about pickled pigs feet, or fried chicken livers. Last year we saw the super keto muscle community embrace crispy chicken skin as the new keto ‘bread crumbs’.
On my first flight many years ago on Air Nippon I was happy to get a large snack bag during the flight of what looked like a Japanese version of chex mix. I remember tasting the first few bites thinking hmm these are good – crunchy a bit more umanmi flavor and then – crunch – I got a super salty-super fishy bite of an unexpected something. Even though I couldn’t read the kanji characters on the bag, closer examination of the photo on the outside of the bag revealed sure enough, small little dried whole fish with the beady eyes looking back at me. I was duped. Why would anyone think to throw little dried fishy-ass minnows in an otherwise delightfully crunchy snack? Well, that’s the Asian palate for you. Enter chYum foods, a San Francisco based snack company on a mission to spread the goodness of fried fish skins to the snack-loving American consumer. I think they have a long marketing hill to climb to convert what’s now considered a dog snack to a convenience store craving, but let’s see how it plays out.
The most popular Singaporan brand – Golden Duck – uses the skin of the Dory fish for their crispy fish skin snacks. No, it’s not the Ellen-voiced character in Disney’s Finding Nemo. It’s the super fishy fish popular in Europe and the South Pacific. Golden Duck has two flavors – salted egg yolk sauce and spicy Szechuan hot pot.
chYum based their product on the Golden Duck salted egg yolk sauce flavor. It reminded them of a favorite Korean side dish, Myulchi bokkeum, and there’s a very common Filipino side dish that also has salted duck egg, diced tomatoes, onions and vinegar (it’s kind of a salsa) that pairs with fried fish or other fried dishes.
chYum Co-Founders Kimberly Adolfo, Clarence Cheuk and Sam Liu have spent over a year researching and developing a select blend of seasonings and spices to create the best gourmet version of the salted egg fish chip snack. And for the U.S. market, that also means being MSG and gluten-free to cater to the healthy crowd.
Something chYum like to point out is that even though they’re not a “healthy snack,” there are benefits to eating fish skins. They are nutrient and collagen packed, high in protein, and a great source of omega-3s. So in a sense the snack could be considered “healthi-ER”.
Cod and salmon skin are commonly used. But other fish skins have been used for the snack and as adders to other Asian dishes. In the region of Shunde, Guangdong, grass carp skin is an essential ingredient in a salad with sliced carrot, cucumber, turnip, ginger and coriander. It is dressed with a sauce of Chinese white liquor, Chinese mustard, soy sauce, oyster sauce, black vinegar, sesame and hot oil. This local specialty is famous for the skin’s crunchiness and complete absence of fishy taste.
chYum also recommend adding the crisps to chicken noodle soup for an umami burst. A trip to CAM Asian market this week was unsuccessful in finding the Singaporan fish crisps – but I did see that dried squid and prawn snacks are super popular in Japan and readily available. A trip to the Asian sections of Jungle Jim’s is in order this weekend.