The Auspicious Fish: A Symbol of Abundance in Chinese New Year

January 25, 2024


As the Lunar New Year approaches, homes across the globe prepare for a celebration steeped in rich traditions and symbolism. Among these, the humble fish takes center stage, swimming its way onto plates and into hearts as a powerful emblem of prosperity and abundance.


Words that Bring Wealth:

The magic begins with the very word for "fish" in Chinese – "yu." Its pronunciation echoes closely with the word for "abundance" or "surplus," imbuing this aquatic treasure with auspicious connotations. So, when you savor a fish dish during Lunar New Year, you're not just enjoying a delicious meal; you're welcoming a potential year overflowing with good fortune.


Nian Nian You Yu: A Wish for Everlasting Abundance

This auspicious connection is further strengthened by the popular phrase "Nian Nian You Yu," which translates to "May you have abundance year after year." This heartfelt wish, often uttered during the festivities, underscores the enduring significance of the fish as a symbol of prosperity.


Seeing is Believing: The Power of Yu Yan

The symbolism goes beyond mere words. The concept of "Yu Yan," meaning "fish eyes," plays on the pronunciation of "Yu" and "Yan," resulting in the delightful phrase "Nian Nian You Yu Yan." This translates to "May you have abundance year after year with a watchful eye," further emphasizing the idea of ever-present prosperity and vigilance.


Now, let's dive into the culinary realm with a Hong Kong-style steamed fish recipe, perfect for bringing the auspicious spirit of the fish to your Lunar New Year table.


  • 1 whole fresh fish (such as sea bass or snapper), scaled and gutted
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 slices of ginger
  • 2 green onions, sliced (both green and white parts)
  • Fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
  • Hot water for steaming


  1. Clean and Prepare the Fish: Make sure your fish is clean and scaled, with a few diagonal cuts on both sides for even cooking.
  2. Ready the Steaming Plate: Place the fish on a heatproof plate that fits comfortably in your steamer.
  3. Season to Perfection: In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, Shaoxing wine, and sugar. Generously coat the fish with this savory mixture, getting into the cuts on the sides.
  4. Aromatic Elegance: Nestle the ginger slices on top of the fish and sprinkle half of the sliced green onions over it.
  5. Steaming to Success: Fill your wok or steamer with water and bring it to a boil. Carefully place the plate with the fish inside and steam for 10-15 minutes, depending on the size of your fish.
  6. Garnish and Serve: Once cooked, gently remove the fish from the steamer. Discard the ginger slices and adorn your culinary masterpiece with the remaining green onions and fresh cilantro leaves.
  7. A Feast for the Senses: Serve the Hong Kong-style steamed fish hot, allowing everyone to savor the tender, flavorful fish and its delightful sauce.

With this recipe and the rich symbolism of the fish, you can invite abundance and prosperity into your Lunar New Year celebrations, ensuring a year filled with good fortune and delicious memories.

So, as you gather around the table with loved ones, remember the auspicious fish swimming through your culinary creations. May each bite be a reminder of the hope and prosperity this timeless symbol embodies, ushering in a year as vibrant and flavorful as this delectable dish.

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