Saturday, February 17, 2007

Chinese New Year... Fish of Fortune

Chinese New Year... Fish of Fortune
Fish of Fortune "Fish" or yu has the same sound as the word "excess" while sheng means "life". Raw fish or yu sheng is thus mandatory especially for the New Year Eve's Reunion dinner.

It has to be served whole, the head and tail representing a completeness with a beginning and an end. Fish is often the last dish served, thus symbolic of the host wishing her guests abundance continually ahead of them.

Yusheng is served on the seventh day also known as Everyman's Birthday in the hope of having a longer life or added material wealth. The fish is thinly sliced and tossed together with a mixture of shredded vegetables in a sweet, piquant sauce.

The Chaozhou (Teochew) Chinese consider the Rabbit Fish (Siganus canalicalatus) or bai du yu or in Chaozhou dialect, pek thor her, highly auspicious as it signifies good luck and prosperity. The fish breeds only once a year during the seasonal celebrations of January or February. Thus during Chinese New Year, the silver-grey female fish are a delicacy, heavy with delicious roe.

So much information for the eve of Chinese New Year. Well, I wanted to share with you all something that I have been exposed to every Chinese New Year since young as I am half Teochew (because my mother is Teochew). During the Chinese New Year, the Rabbit Fish (otherwise known as Pek Thor Her) is something that the whole family will eat. What is so special about this fish? Other than all the auspicious reasons which have been already mentioned, I shall dwell into the biological aspects of this fish.

The Rabbit Fish from this particular area near Batam, Indonesia possess some kind of intuitive thinking. Coincidence you may say, but it is only during Chinese New Year that their stomachs are filled with roe. This makes the fish during the Chinese New Year even more expensive. Although, countries like Taiwan have tried to cultivate this fish, they are only successful in being able to cultivate them to grow quite big, but is still unable to get the fishes to have their stomachs to be filled with roe. Apparently, the place where these fishes come from is at the river mouth and only the rabbit fish from this area have their stomachs filled with roe during Chinese New Year.

As to how to savour this delicacy and the taste profile of this fish... This fish is often steamed or cooked with leek (another auspicious vegetable eaten during Chinese New Year). The meat is usually dipped in a chilli-leek-sugar-dark soya sauce-vinegar sauce. Generally, this fish is slightly more fishy as compared to other fishes. As to the roe, I personally prefer the male roe as it is soft like tofu (beancurd), the female roe on the other hand is harder and rougher in texture.

Note: Photos of the whole fish and Yu Sheng were taken at my Chinese New Year Eve's reunion dinner this evening. Photo of the Rabbit Fish (Pek Thor Her) was taken this morning which was for my brunch.