Johor Kaki Travels for Food

Tony Boey johorkaki@gmail 🇸🇬 Dairy of Singapore active senior. Best years of food, travel, lifestyle

Canned Fried Dace Fish 🐟 Humble Global Cantonese Food Icon 豆豉鯪魚

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I first tasted canned fried dace fish in the 1980s. Canned fried dace fish in that iconic long oval tin is something I picked up from my Hong Kong schoolmates in Canada besides cooking HK soya sauce chicken.

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Coming from Singapore, that was the first time I came across canned fried dace fish. But, it was very easy to like. It is after all fried fish which we are familiar with. The leathery dry chewy fried fish soaked in oil infused with fermented black bean umami-saltiness. It tasted savoury-salty with an underlying sweetness from the fish and sugar. There is no earthly or fishy taste at all.

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The bones lost all their stiffness and can be eaten together with the fried fish meat.

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The pearls of black beans are tender-firm nutty to the bite. They have a smokey, umami and intense salty taste. For some people, these black pearls are the best things in the can.

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It is a perfect complement for plain white rice and even better with plain white porridge. The sweet rice or porridge moderates and balances the robust saltiness of the fried dace and fermented black beans.

Alternatively, the fried dace can be chopped up and used in fried rice or fried vegetables to impart their robust umami savoury-salty flavours to the dish.

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Fast forward decades, I still pick up a can of fried dace fish from the supermarket
occasionally. I enjoy the taste of it and the memories of the years in Canada.

The cheap canned fried dace fish was a godsend for poor Asian students who subsist on 99 cent per bird chicken to make soy sauce chicken, free fish during the annual capelin run and wild watercress which is abundant in the summer.


First things first, the fish used is 鲮鱼 - it is a Chinese Mud Carp not a dace.

The Chinese Mud Carp comes from the Pearl River which flows through China's Guangdong province into the South China Sea.


The people of Guangdong province long have a fried mud carp and fermented black bean dish. When they travel, Guangdong people would keep the fried mud carp and black beans in a used wine jar and take them along to eat during the journey. The humble dish travelled to California and British Malaya during the great migrations from the 1850s - 1920s. Fried mud carp and fermented black beans helped sustained the coolies during their arduous South China Sea or Pacific crossing.  

In 1893, 广茂香罐头厂 Guangmaoxiang Canned Food Factory of Guangzhou city pioneered canning the dish. Indeed, fried dace was the first product from Guangmaoxiang. The canned fried dace, then a luxury product was for export only, hence the name dace (which is a European cousin of the Chinese mud carp). How to export, if you market it as Chinese Mud Carp, right.... ? 😅

Due to its wide availability, affordability and convenience, canned fried dace was extremely popular in Hong Kong in the 1960s to 1980s. Many Hong Kongers identify with the humble canned fish as a comfort dish. When Hong Kongers move around the world, they brought the canned fried dace fish culture with them just like the pioneer Guangdong migrants who brought the dish around the world in used wine jars.


Chinese mud carp fishballs is another iconic dish made with this fish 👈 click


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There's fried dace with preserved vegetables too - know what you are buying 😄

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Get the one with the black beans pearls.


Written by Tony Boey on 15 Feb 2021

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