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Why do Teochew Eat Rabbit Fish During Chinese New Year? 白肚鱼 🐟 拜年鱼

Rabbitfish_Chinese_New_Year

Rabbit fish known as 白肚鱼 (peh tor her or white belly fish) or 
拜年鱼 (Chinese New Year fish) is in high demand during Chinese New Year. Eating rabbit fish during Chinese New Year is considered auspicious, especially in the Teochew community. 


The rabbit fish is a common food fish found in coastal waters from the western Pacific Ocean to the eastern Indian Ocean. The rabbit fish is also known as spinefoot because of its stiff, sharp dorsal and pelvic spines which are venomous (though not life threatening to humans except for a painful sting). The adult fish measures 6 to 8 inches. 
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia. The live rabbit fish looks so beautiful.)

Rabbitfish_Chinese_New_Year

There are some 30 species of rabbit fish. The wide ranging fish is eaten throughout the year from The Philippines, Indonesia, China, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Bangladesh to India. (This picture was taken in Tekka Market in Singapore. Rabbit fish are found in the markets throughout the year.)


Teochew people usually cook rabbit fish by steaming with 花雕酒 Chinese cooking wine and julienned ginger. When served, the fish is eaten with a dipping sauce made by blending light soy sauce, sesame seed oil, chopped garlic, chopped chili, freshly squeezed lime juice, etc.

Rabbitfish_Chinese_New_Year

Rabbit fish is also cooked by dunking / poaching in boiling stock.

Rabbitfish_Chinese_New_Year

Fresh rabbit fish meat is white, tender, moist and sweet.

Rabbit_Fish

The delicate meat comes off the bone easily. At the belly, it can taste slightly bitter (which is an acquired taste that I've learned to appreciate).

Rabbitfish_Chinese_New_Year

The rabbit fish spawning season peaks from Jan to Feb every year (hopefully climate change doesn't change any of this). During the spawning season, the bellies of rabbit fish are filled with roe (eggs) or milt (semen). The rabbit fish spawning season usually overlaps the Chinese New Year.

The Teochew people consider eating roe and milt laden rabbit fish auspicious and will bring them good luck and prosperity. According to urban legend, a businessman in Singapore ate rabbit fish with roe and milt, and became very wealthy 🤔  So, anyone who wants to enjoy the same good fortune shall eat rabbit fish with roe or milt during Chinese New Year 😄

The rabbit fish is thus also called 拜年鱼 Chinese New Year fish because of this custom.

Other Chinese communities have also adopted the Teochew tradition, so demand for rabbit fish will peak around Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year price is at least 10 times the everyday price (up to SGD200 per kilo in recent years).

Rabbitfish_Chinese_New_Year

During the spawning season the rabbit fish are bigger, fuller. The belly tastes sweet instead of bitter. The fish roe and milt are creamy and rich like soft smooth custard. The roe have a subtle eggy taste while the milt tastes like milk.

Rabbitfish_Chinese_New_Year

🐟 Eat rabbitfish for luck and prosperity during Chinese New Year. 

Eat rabbitfish after Chinese New Year while spawning season is ongoing. After Chinese New Year, rabbitfish is affordable and the taste of sweet flesh, roe and milt is just so addictive 🤤 I wait for this post-Chinese New Year season every year to enjoy rabbit fish like here at Teo Heng Teochew Porridge in Hong Lim food centre 😄



Useful hack on how to clean roe or milt laden rabbit fish during Chinese New Year.

Snip open the fish belly on its right side (with the head pointing towards you). The gut is on the fish's right side while the roe or milt is on its left side. Just pull out the gut after opening the belly, leaving the roe or milt inside.

Date: 1 Jan 2021

2 comments:

  1. Alex Kee said on Tony Boey Facebook:

    "Too fishy for most people; as a Teochew, this fishiness is just perfect for me. Don't do too much with this perfect tasting fish: just steam lightly and dip in Teochew Taucheo and a little chopped red chillies, kalamansi juice and sugar, if you like."

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  2. Tan David Chao Hsiung said on Singapore Yummy Facebook group:

    "the fact = the only time of year that it yield roe and sperm and myth = the roe and sperm are gold - wealth - it brings to you in the new year. they tried bringing farmed rabbit fish from taiwan but it is fishy - this fish can be very fishy. the best are from waters singapore. the traditional way to eat - older teochew will prefer to steam just with salt and let it air cool or dry then eat it. they like the chewy texture - that comes when it is air cool or dry. minced garlic with chillies and dash of salt either with vingear or lime is the best to go with. by the way there was many who wanted lots of "gold or wealth" that they ate too much roe and sperm the after effect can knock u off or feeling tipsy - the cholestrol brings up your blood pressure very quickly - moderation is good here lolx"

    ReplyDelete

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