The symbolic meanings of 'fish' throughout Chinese tradition are endless. The identical sound of the words 'fish' (yú) 鱼 and the word 余 (yú), meaning 'extra', 'surplus' have made fish an indispensable component in the Chinese New Year's dinner celebration.

“年年有余”- 'May you have surplus and remainders year after year' is a common blessing expressed during the Chinese New Year's celebration. ‘余’means surplus, remainder, extra or leftovers hence this saying is wish that one will always have slightly more than what he needs and will never experience shortage in financial matters, but also in other aspects, such as health, friendship, etc.

Since Chinese holidays are fill with motifs which carry symbolic meaning, the phonetic identity between '余' and '鱼' (fish), has made the latter a symbol of prosperity and wealth as well. There are plenty of idioms involving 'fish' in the Chinese language, often portraying fish as natural, carefree and resilient creatures. There is also a well known connection between fish and the Yin-Yang symbol and when the Chinese Lunar New Year is approaching, fish become a symbol of redundancy.

If you search the internet for the term '年年有鱼' you will come across numerous recipes for some of China's favorite New Year's fish dishes. We won't share recipes here, but only add that the fish (popular choices are bass and tilapia) is served as a whole, with the tail and head on. In northern China the fish is typically deep fried and coated with sweet and sour (or bean) sauce, while in regions closer to Canton much less a fresh and natural flavor is preferred.

Some families like to point the fish towards the guest of honor, though an even more important custom is not to eat the fish completely and keep the leftovers (in other words, the '余' of the '鱼') for the next day, this way the prosperity symbolism carried by the fish is intensified.