Photo: Nian Nian You Yu (年年有魚 Plenty of Fish Year After Year)

In China, fish (魚) is pronounced ‘Yu’, the same pronunciation as the word for ‘ample’ or ‘plentiful’ (餘). (Credit: Lomogirl via Flickr)

By Kim Mo, food blogger and SeaChoice sustainable seafood ambassador

Lunar New Year celebrations in China are as important as Christmas celebrations in western countries. This is the time when kids get to wear new clothes and receive money in red packets (in lieu of presents) from parents and married couples. This is also the time when everyone comes home and spends time with their family, friends visit each other to exchange greetings and gifts, and special dishes are prepared to welcome in the New Year.

These special dishes all have auspicious names because Chinese diners believe that a lucky start to the New Year will bring lasting fortune for the rest of the year. This is where the creativity of Chinese chefs really shines as they use very specific ingredients so that the name of the dish becomes an auspicious greeting itself.

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For example, lettuce (生菜) sounds like 'creating wealth', sticky rice cakes (年糕) symbolises 'rising to new heights', dumplings (餃子) resemble gold ingots used as money in ancient times, round sesame-seed filled sticky rice balls (湯圓) represent family reunion. In addition to these popular dishes, fish (魚) is also a ubiquitous ingredient because it is pronounced 'Yu', the same pronunciation as the word for 'ample' or 'plentiful' (餘).

Many Canadians may be familiar with greetings like Kung Hei Fat Choy (恭喜發財) in Cantonese, or Gong Xi Fa Cai in Mandarin. My favourite greeting is Nian Nian You Yu (年年有餘 'plenty to spare year after year') which may be used towards households or businesses. This greeting is particularly meaningful and relevant in the context of sustainable seafood.

As an ambassador for the SeaChoice program, I propose the greeting be changed to 年年有魚 ('Nian Nian You Yu'), substituting the last character with the word for 'fish', and changing the meaning slightly to ('plenty of fish year after year').

The choices we make today will affect the future. As we enjoy special New Year dishes, we should take time to think about the environment around us and act responsibly. Check out the SeaChoice sustainable seafood guide (now available in Traditional and Simplified Chinese), share it with friends and family, choose seafood in the green category and avoid those in the red category to ensure that we have ample seafood to enjoy year after year.

(Kim Mo is a member of the SeaChoice ambassador group that recently joined the David Suzuki Foundation to help spread the word about ocean-friendly seafood. His regular food blogs can be found at or at

January 20, 2012

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