During Chinese New Year, the dishes that are served have a symbolic meaning to them. One of them is fish. Fish or “yu” in Chinese symbolizes abundance. As you eat the fish, you may wish your friends nian nian you yu – may you have abundance year after year. A whole fish also represents a harmonious family and is usually steamed or deep fried with a crispy batter and topped with a sweet and sour sauce.

However, not all types of fish are suitable for steaming. Fishes that have less bones and do not have a strong fishy odour are only suitable for steaming. Some good types of fish that’s suitable for steaming are threadfin, cod fish, white pomfret, grouper, snapper, sea bass, tilapia, halibut or even salmon. However, if you are steaming the whole fish, make sure the fish has to be very fresh with clear eyes, firm flesh and red gills.

Seasoning plays an important part when you are steaming fish especially if the fish is not fresh or if you are using the wrong type of fish. In order to reduce the fishy smells, use herbs like spring onions, gingers, shallots and garlic, white pepper, Chinese cooking wine and sesame oil.

Steam the fish over high heat for 8 – 10 minutes. For bigger fish, add another 3 minutes. The right timing ensures that the flesh remains soft, silky and delicate. Before serving, garnish with red cut chilli, ginger strips, minced garlic with light or dark soya sauce, vinegar.

Here’s a simple style for steamed fish you can try out this Chinese New Year:


  • 1 piece of fish fillet about 300 – 500g
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 2 tablespoons light soya sauce
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 small pieces of rock sugar
  • 1 cm ginger – cut into thin strips
  • 1 shallot – cut into thin strips
  • Spring onions – cut into thin strips


  1. Place the fish fillet on a plate that’s suitable for steaming. Add in the seasonings: oyster sauce, soya sauce, rock sugar and 2 tablespoons water. Steam under high heat for 8 – 10 minutes.
  2. While the fish is steaming, put 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan and fry the shallot and ginger until fragrant. Pour the hot oil on top of the steamed fish and garnish with spring onions. You fish is ready to be served.