Fish Tales: Lunar New Year, Part 1: Fresh Fish

Submitted by Gillian Chan, Public Programs Coordinator

cooked whole grey and silver fish on top of glass dish, sprinkled with sliced green onion
Steamed tilapia. Photo credit: Gillian 

Happy Year of the Tiger! As one of the biggest holidays across many cultures, Lunar New Year has plenty of different traditions, festivities, and food to celebrate. In this post, I’ll be writing from my own experiences as someone with a Cantonese background. 

You may have heard “Gong Hei Fat Choy” in Cantonese or “Gong Xi Fa Cai” in Mandarin (translation: Wishing you happiness and prosperity). In Chinese culture, fish plays an important role in celebrations. Fish (魚) is a symbol for surplus, or prosperity (餘), as the two words have a similar pronunciation (yu). An auspicious Lunar New Year phrase often said during the holidays is nin nin you yu (年年有餘), which means “to have surplus year after year”.

Since fish is a sign of prosperity and wealth, it’s customary to have a whole fish served at a Lunar New Year dinner. Not sure how to cook a whole fish all at once? Steamed whole fish with julienne ginger and spring onions is a classic Cantonese dish. Fresh fish yields the best results, but frozen works too. Once steamed and cooked through, drizzle the fish with soy sauce and then pour smoking hot oil over top. Be careful – you’ll know how hot it is when you hear the oil sizzle the fish!

Do you know any fish-related phrases? How do you like to prepare fish? Let us know #WhatsYourFishTale?

For more on Chinese greetings for Lunar New Year, check out these articles:

Chinese New Year Greetings in Cantonese: 10 Essential Ones to Know

Chinese New Year Greetings and Wishes 2022 for Clients, Friends, Family, Boss

Read Fish Tales: Lunar New Year, Part 2: Dried Seafood