Imagine the world’s finest caviar and you’re likely dreaming of Beluga from the Russian or Iranian shores of the Caspian Sea. Or perhaps you salivate at the prospect of eggs from Siberian sturgeon raised in the lap of luxury on a French aquafarm. But what about Chinese caviar from man-made Qiandaohu Lake, whose waters are better known for the part they play in the production of a favorite local beer?
A handful of top chefs in restaurants in Hong Kong have recently turned to Chinese caviar, including from sturgeon farmed in Qiandaohu, a popular scenic spot a couple of hours drive from the city of Hangzhou.
The caviar has been sold exclusively since 2008 under the Russian-sounding brand name “Rusalka” by Swiss caviar supplier Planet Caviar. Rusalka caviar is made entirely in China, where the fish are farmed and the eggs are washed, sieved, and salted. After processing, the eggs are sent to Switzerland and stored at the firm’s Geneva headquarters. The Chinese caviar sells for about US$1,300 a kilogram, one-tenth the cost of wild caviar from the Caspian, which Planet Caviar also sells. “The price is much cheaper for caviar from farmed sturgeon compared to those in the wild. And also labor in China is so much cheaper,” says Jean-Pascal Salvaj, a partner at Planet Caviar.
Chinese Caviar anyone?