CNY series: On the tenth day of New Year…fish

On the tenth day of New Year my mama said to me
10. a whole fish

Fish is another auspicious animal in Chinese culture because of the homophone of the word. Fish, in Mandarin (it has the same sound in Mandarin) and most Chinese dialects, is very similar in sound to abundance. The expression, nian nian you yu in Mandarin means every year there is leftover (as a result of abundance). Many even cut and fold red packets in the shape of a fish as part of CNY decor to symbolise abundance.

Fish has to be eaten steamed and whole; no frying is allowed even if one prefers fried fish. A fish is usually served on its side, though most restaurants serve large fish standing upright as it looks more presentable. But traditionally, fish is served whole and on its side and most homecooked fish is served that way. The fish has to be freshwater fish as well. When the side that is facing up has been eaten, the bone is then removed and the next side may be eaten. Depending on how superstitious one is and whether one lives near the sea, a fish is never flipped because fishermen believe that their boats would flip or turn over in the water, a sign of bad luck or something unpleasant happening when they go to sea. Some city folks do not hold on to that belief and the fish is flipped rather than deboned as it is easier to eat.


Steamed fish on its side. Photo, courtesy of a friend.

Fish that is served at a restaurant. It is ‘standing’ upright. Photo, courtesy of another friend.

A hong bao that has been cut and designed into the shape of a fish. It is hung on a bamboo plant which is also considered auspicious and is known for its hardiness and longevity. Bamboo plants are evergreen even in winter.


One thought on “CNY series: On the tenth day of New Year…fish

  1. Pingback: An initiation into nobility | Sudah makan? Have you eaten?

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