Seafood, Surplus, and Family: New Year Celebrations in China, Vietnam and Korea
January 24, 2020
Let there be fish every year! That’s what you might hear at a Chinese New Year meal – because the Chinese word for fish is a homophone for the word for surplus. So the phrase ‘Let there be surpluses every year’ sounds the same as ‘Let there be fish every year’, and is often said when fish is eaten during New Year celebrations. For the same reason, fish is associated with surplus and plenty. Sounds to us like a very good reason to tuck into some seafood.
As you may know, Chinese New Year is this Saturday, on 25 January. The Chinese traditional calendar is Lunar based (fans of pedantry may be interested to learn that technically it is lunisolar, as it takes into account the sun as well as the moon). The same, or very similar calendar is used by a number of other countries, including Vietnam and Korea – both of which are also celebrating New Year on Saturday.
In China, New Year celebratory meals tend to be large, involving all manner of vegetable, meat and fish dishes. Of course, popular dishes vary widely from region to region, but many involve seafood – such as abalone – and the New Year’s Eve meal will often involve a whole fish. But, because of the aforementioned link between fish and prosperity, the whole fish is not eaten – often the head and the tail will be saved for the next day, to ensure ongoing ‘surplus’ in the coming year.
In Vietnam, the new year is known as Tết. As in China, it is largely a time of year for family gatherings. Vietnamese children will be looking forward to the first day of the new year especially, as they are traditionally given a red envelope containing money. In Korea too, the new year (or Seollal, or 설날) for most people means spending time with family, and this time of year will see huge numbers of Koreans travelling the country for this reason.
One food that is popular for new year meals in Korea is Jeon – this is a pan-fried dish that can include all manner of vegetable, meat or fish fillings. The filling is mixed with flour before being fried. The seafood variety, known as Saengseon-jeon (생선전) can include all manner of seafood, a couple of examples (that happen to be ASC certified species) include Daeha-jeon (대하전) made with prawn and Guljeon (굴전) made with oysters.
And in case you were wondering, 2020 will be the year of the Rat, according to the Chinese Zodiac, which is observed not only in China but also in South Korea, Vietnam and other East Asian countries (with a few small differences). The rat is associated with being quick-witted and resourceful, as well as kind.
This is a very important part of the world for aquaculture, which is a vital part of many economies and livelihoods in Southeast Asia. So it is no surprise to see plenty of ASC presence in many of these countries. At the time of writing this blog there are around 200 certified farms in Vietnam, mostly producing shrimp and pangasius, 18 in China (shrimp, tilapia, bivalves, and abalone) and 15 abalone farms in South Korea. The programme is growing all the time though, and you can find out how many farms are in a particular country, or search for particular farms or species, using the Find a Farm feature on our website.
If you’re inspired by the New Year celebrations to try out some Asian cuisine, our Recipes page can help you out! It features recipes from around the world, and you can even filter recipes by world cuisine (as well as many other filters including difficulty, species, and cooking time) using the tick boxes on the left side of the page.
Wherever you are in the world: Happy New Year from everyone at ASC, and let there be fish every year!