The cod chronicles: 2 – Popular with tourists

POPULAR WITH TOURISTS

Kingklip is unknown to spellcheckers. It’s one word with two ks. It’s not king clip, kingclip or even king klip. It’s kingklip.

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Kingklip is also unknown to the British public. It’s from South Africa, where it’s highly-regarded. South African expats in the UK had called and emailed The Fish Society for years asking why we did not sell kingklip. I asked our suppliers but even the few who had heard of it were unable to offer it. “No demand”, they said.

Then I tracked down Mike. I’ve never met him but from his accent, I know he’s South African. He lives in London and seems to work from his back bedroom organising deliveries of fresh fish from South Africa to the UK. I found Mike via a corner shop with a website. It wasn’t just a corner shop – it also stocked a few South African deli items. That explained the website – for the South African items. But not for the kingklip. To get that, you had to call at the shop. I sympathised. We know exactly how difficult it is to deliver fish around the country in retail quantities.

So, having had to fend off many enquirers over the years who could not understand why our range of 400 kinds of fish did not include their favourite, here it was – a glorious solo act in a glorified corner shop in West London. How did this corner shop get it? Could we get it too?

People are understandably protective of valuable information like where they get their kingklip from. As you can see, I’m not making it easy for my commercial rivals to track Mike down. So I approached this task with some hesitation. Ideally, I’d want to buy from the same source as the corner shop. But if they weren’t willing to divulge who that was, I’d be happy to buy from them instead. So I dialled the corner shop. They were totally relaxed – “You need to talk to Mike. He gets it for us. Hang on a minute, here’s his number…”

So there it was. You’ve given up hope of getting kingklip, then all of a sudden it lands in your lap.

“Yeah”, Mike told me. “I did some kingklip for Morrisons a few years ago but they got bored and stopped it. My main business is hake and tuna. But a South African friend who runs a little shop – he asked me for some so I got a box put on the hake delivery.”

I have a picture in my mind’s eye of 60 boxes of hake and one of kingklip being unloaded from the cargo hold of a South African Airways 747.

plane

It would have been very handy to buy just one box of kingklip. But Mike is not quite as accommodating to me as to his mate in the corner shop. I had to buy eight boxes of kingklip fillets. That’s a lot of fish given that your platform is about ten expatriate South Africans and five returning tourists who over the years have asked you for kingklip.

But Hey! Nice fish! When you get fish from a new supplier, there are always a few nervous days pending its arrival, when you just have to hope you’re dealing with good guys. You wouldn’t buy from someone who didn’t sound right. But still, there’s plenty of scope for misjudgments. Generally, you have paid for your first consignment upfront. So there’s no going back. I’ve only once had to throw out a consignment from a new customer. Fortunately, it was just £50 worth of seaweed. I just hope the next one isn’t £5,000 worth of prawns.

When we opened the boxes of that first shipment from Mike, we found beautiful large very fresh fillets with brilliant mottled orange and red skin. And nicely filleted. All we had to do was cut the large fillets into portion sized steaks and freeze them. And cook some up. Excellent!

Then we put them up for sale on our website. We were the only people selling kingklip in the UK. Were those ten expats still here? Would some new returning tourists find us?

We did make a few South Africans happy. And a few tourists. But it took time…  18 months to knock out that first consignment. The second consignment took ten months and the third about six months. Now, restaurants and banquet-providers come to us for kingklip. 80 portions for a dinner; 200 for a lunch… thankyou very much. But the main business is with our regular retail customers, who are buying fish to eat at home. And not just South Africans.

I wonder how many of them realise that – horror of horrors—kingklip is an eel. At least on the basis that it has a vaguely similar fin arrangement including no tail fin. But unlike the really eely end of the eel spectrum, it has very low-fat white flesh. If you remove its skin, most people could mistake a piece of kingklip for a piece of cod. It has a delicate taste and is super low in fat.

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Update – October 2016 – Oh dear – Mike says his kingklip supply line is closing down.

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