Hong Shao Yu – Ginger Fish

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Chinese-American
Age: 22
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 21. 2014
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

My informant is a 22 year old Chinese-American young woman studying communications. She heard this recipe or fish cooking strategy from her mother, who passed it to her and her sister. She likes it partly because she’s used to the flavor but partly because it’s hygienic, and also reminds her of her family. It means a lot to her because of this connection with her family.

This interview was conducted in the informant’s living room.

“So when Asian people cook, or I guess specifically like Chinese people, they make this thing called hong shao yu, it’s a type of fish that you kind of like, that you, I guess you pan-fry? and Asian people don’t eat like, old seafood, like they hate the old fishy taste, and so what you do, and like plus eating like dead seafood is like… dead shellfish is like bad luck, like you don’t eat dead crabs and stuff, yeah. Just read like Amy Tan. Um. But like fish is okay, of course cause a lot of times it’s dead before you get it, and so when you make fish, you have to stuff it with like, green onions and ginger. Like, TONS of ginger, because it gets… ugh gosh I don’t even remember what they call it, but if you translate it it’s like the fishy taste from old fish, but ginger’s so fresh that it’s kind of antibacterial, so it kills the bacteria and stuff. Now whenever I make fish or any type of seafood I’m like ‘Oh I want it to taste as fresh as possible, so I always put in like, tons of ginger. Something I learned from my mom.” “So is this something you do with your mom a lot, or just something you saw her do? When did you learn it from her?” “I’ve watched her do it a lot, like growing up I was just next to her whenever she made food, and so I’d always seen her do it. She cuts slices almost where, if fish had ribs, where the ribs would be, and she just puts in slices of ginger into the fish. I’d always seen her do that and I never thought about why… I always thought it was more for flavor and not for like, health reasons. She taught my sister and I how to make it about a year ago, and since my sister’s always been better than me I usually just let her do it, but I know how to do it now.”

My informant enjoys the taste of this ginger-y, onion-y method of preparing fish, as well as the supposed antibacterial functions this method has; the two seem to be connected by a cultural dislike of the “old fish flavor” she mentions here. This method connects her to her Chinese cultural roots as well as her mother and sister.