Throughout most of Asia, fish is cooked and served whole (head and tail intact) for good luck. “Whole steamed fish with scallions, shiitakes and cilantro is classic. Every household in China has this recipe,” says award-winning food writer and cookbook author Corinne Trang. Whole fish symbolizes abundance, she says, and so for special occasions like weddings and birthdays, it is customary and good luck to serve a whole fish at the table. “I will make it any time I want to have it, and that’s not necessarily attached to a holiday like the Chinese New Year.”
Fish also has symbolic significance because the Chinese word for fish, yu, sounds like the word for riches (abundance). California-based Chris Yeo, founder of Straits Restaurant Group in California, recommends cooking your fish for 8 minutes, as 8 is a lucky number. “It is customary to serve the whole fish last, pointed toward the guest of honor at the table.” He offers an interesting insight into the dish: The fish is never completely eaten, as leaving a little bit of it represents the family’s ability to “always have enough.” Chris, who co-authored The Cooking of Singapore (Harlow & Ratner, 1993), prepares his fish inspired by the flavors he grew up with in Hong Kong and Singapore.