Year Year Got Fish
February 7, 2005 3:01 AM   Subscribe

Nian Nian You Yu ("nyen nyen yo yew") - translates to "Have abundance every year" or phonetically as "Year Year Got Fish." Tomorrow evening, over a billion people will be celebrating Lunar New Year's Eve with a Reunion Dinner. This involves family members coming together and for many, the ideal menu includes eating braised shark's fin soup. This is a perfect time to regale your friends and family with shark factoids and horror stories. True you mother won't appreciate when you point out to Auntie Mei how how around 100 million sharks are caught worldwide every year, mostly just for their fins, or that actually the dish is tasteless and people are just ordering it to show off their wealth. But surely it's better than one day having to say "Year Year Got No Fish."
posted by missbossy (14 comments total)
While its not only the Chinese who are into shark cartilage, it is sickening to see the market they support globally -- particularly in the poorest countries.

But Happy Chinese New Year anyway, and here's to prosperity and abundance with less exploitation. One can always hope.
posted by pwedza at 4:50 AM on February 7, 2005

da jia xin nian kuai le!
posted by sour cream at 5:54 AM on February 7, 2005

Worth pointing out that 'nian nian you yu' is also a pun for 'Every year have abandance'
posted by sudasana at 7:58 AM on February 7, 2005

It sounds like "year year octopus" to me instead of "(I wish/hope that ) every year fish [food] is available [plentiful]"...

Cantonese/Mandarin intonation is rather hard to represent with the 24 letter alphabet.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 12:41 PM on February 7, 2005

Actually, it's more like "every year have leftovers" or "every year have remainders", the "yu/yew" in the transliteration above being a homophone for both "leftovers" and "fish." The "fish" translation is NOT literal as per the written phrase, which makes the "year year got fish" phrase specious, since it purports to be a word-by-word translation (i.e. using the literal "year year" instead of its meaning of "every year") but it wrongly substitutes the homophone for the actual word. A less literal translation would use "abundance" or "plenty" in place of "leftovers", of course, but still--the fish thing is a spoken pun, and not the phrase itself in either transcription or semantics.

FWIW, none of the Chinese familie I know (including my own) celebrate with shark's fin soup. Instead we have, you know, fish, just like the bastardized pun says, and I see that shark isn't mentioned anywhere in the Wikipedia article either (and I've had many of the other foods listed in that article as part of the New Year's festivities). My own experience has been that shark's fin soup is rarely served outside of restaurants (you don't exactly pick up shark's fin at your local Safeway, and it's not cheap when you can find it) and is almost entirely for upscale traditionalists (a dying breed) and tourists. IMO the link made in original post between shark's fin soup and Chinese New Year is tenuous at best, at least in being anything other than exceptions among smaller groups among the population that celebrate the New Year. The number of those having shark fin's soup for New Years is many orders of magnitudes smaller than the "over a billion people will be celebrating Lunar New Year's Eve" from the original post.

I also think it's wholly inaccurate and unfair to characterize this particularly widespread and popular holiday within the context of "shark factoids and horror stories."

On preview: Ha! PurplePorpoise is right, "have remainders" does sound like the phrase for "octopus."

posted by DaShiv at 1:22 PM on February 7, 2005

(Although the accents on the words don't match up, "octopus" begins with the second tone and not the third tone.)
posted by DaShiv at 1:25 PM on February 7, 2005

Shark's fin soup is not tasteless. The broth is not entirely made from shark's fin, either, but is primarily chicken or soy based.

I order single servings of shark's fin soup every so often at a dim sum restaurant I know. It is absolutely wonderful, reasonably priced (about $6), and has a texture that you can't find elsewhere.

It is typical of Asian cuisine, in general, to appreciate the unique qualities that cartilage, tendons, and other such tissue can add to soups. The shark's fin gives the soup its incredibly rich texture which complements the taste of the broth wonderfully.

Yes, sharks are increasingly endangered and yes, I think the entire shark should be used and that efforts should be made to not overfish sharks, but there are plenty of things that people eat which aren't sustainable... especially seafood.
posted by insomnia_lj at 2:16 PM on February 7, 2005

What exactly is it with the Chinese predilection to eat everything to extinction? I admit it's erroneous, but it is still the impression that I get. What kind of ethic is at work here? Yes, I realize the factory farms and dining habits of the West leave much to be desired. But I am glad to read that this is an older tradition, one that might be dying out.
posted by piskycritter at 3:19 PM on February 7, 2005

No, no. The chinese just eat everything.
posted by TwelveTwo at 3:49 PM on February 7, 2005

What exactly is it with the Chinese predilection to eat everything to extinction?

This isn't unique to the Chinese. In the rest of the world, most populations of fish have been severely depleted. When I was a kid, fish sticks were made with Cod. No more. Now Cod is a seriously expensive fish. What happened? Guess. The Shark's Fin story is just a particularly horrible example of greed and waste.
posted by missbossy at 4:13 PM on February 7, 2005

In my experience shark's fin soup is much more common at weddings and other events where the goal isn't quite so much to eat as to impress the hell out of all present with what you can afford - i.e lots of rare, bizarre, and expensive stuff.

I think the general texture of shark's fin might be approximated with undercooked rice noodles, but haven't had a chance to test this yet.
posted by casarkos at 5:10 PM on February 7, 2005

casarkos - You're right about the prestige-thing with sharksfin. There are rice/soy/other-plant -based imitations of the real thing. They aren't bad, in and of themselves (I like to use them in vegatarian stews), but it's a poor imitation of shark cartilage.

In Chinatown/little-HK here you can get low-quality (small, and the individual strands of sharksfin are really thin) dried sharksfin pretty cheap (offhand estimate; serves 4 [in soup] for less than $20 cdn?). high quality sharkfin, though, is exponentially priced vs. quality. these days, sharksfin soup tends to be judged by the quality of the stock more than the quality of the shark bits, because the good are getting to be increasingly rare.

oh - i'm sorry, it's not octopus (baight jao yue - eight tentacled seabeastie - remember, it's not the size that matter but how many you have) it's cuttlefish/squid (yao yue).
posted by PurplePorpoise at 8:16 PM on February 7, 2005

In my experience shark's fin soup is much more common at weddings and other events

True but it's practically impossible to have a set reunion dinner in a restaurant without having to order this plus given that wedding dinners are "whenever" and there is only one CNY, this is a good time to spread the word.

Of course a popular prestige alternative is Buddha Jump Over the Wall. I don't think Buddha jumped the wall to get a taste... I think he was trying to run away from the carnage.
posted by missbossy at 8:41 PM on February 7, 2005

... but there are plenty of things that people eat which aren't sustainable...

Very strange justification. A lot of people do a lot of things every single day that if analyzed by any serious (and sometimes, not so serious) manner, many many holes (or gaping caverns) in logic can be found.

That doesn't mean that I'm going to run out and do all of them. The idea is that once you learn about it, you try to change or affect the situation in some way, not slough it off because everyone else is doing it.
posted by purephase at 6:47 AM on February 8, 2005

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