A whole fish on a plate garnished with lime and herbs
How Whole Fish Became A Symbol For Lunar New Year
Lunar New Year is celebrated by an estimated quarter of the world's population. Festivities typically involve gathering for sumptuous meals, typically featuring a whole fish.
Foods like rice cakes and dumplings are popular, but whole fish stands out for its symbolic value. The word for “fish” in Mandarin shares its pronunciation with “abundance.”
The fish is usually steamed with aromatics such as scallions and ginger. Serving it complete with head and tail symbolizes a wish for prosperity from the year's start to its end.
The fish is presented on a large platter, and often garnished with herbs, soy sauce, and chili oil. Not finishing it is intentional, as the leftovers represent sustained abundance.
To signify respect, the fish's head may be pointed towards elders or honored guests, further highlighting a deep-rooted connection between food, language, and cultural symbolism.