Fish in Asian Cuisine
To Asians, fish symbolize regeneration, abundance, wealth, and prosperity.
Because fish — and other seafoood — are plentiful in Asia, it is a popular ingredient of Asian cookery, appearing at almost every meal. Fish is used for soups, snacks and appetizers, and of course for main courses.
When boiled and combined with vegetables and a souring agent like lemongrass or kalamansi (Philippine citrus), or enriched with coconut milk, fish is a meal in itself, with the accompaniment of the ubiquitous rice, of course.
In many Asian cuisines, fish is grilled, barbecued, deep-fried, or pickled. Dried fish and seafood are prepared in coastal towns and cities and shipped to markets far inland.
Condiments made from fermented fish and seafood are part of the standard culinary repertory of Southeast Asia. Known variously as patis in the Philippines, nuoc mam in Vietnam, nam pla in Thailand, ngan pya ye in Burma, fish sauce is used as both a flavoring during the cooking process and as a condiment to be added to taste at the table. Salty and fishy in its pure state, fish sauce takes on less definable characteristics when used during the cooking process, adding a distinctive but not overwhelming savor to stews, salads, barbecued or grilled meat and chicken, and to almost any other type of dish but dessert.
The Chinese have a thousand and one ways to use fish products and foods from the sea. The Japanese are famous for their exquisitely presented platters of raw sushi and sashimi, and for the delicately battered, deep-fried tempura. Filipinos prepare a wonderful stuffed fish, borrowing techniques and an assortment of ingredients from Spanish and other Mediterranean influences. In Indonesia, fish are generally fried or barbecued, and dishes of this sort are delectable, served with a variety of dipping sauces. In Laos and Cambodia, two of the landlocked countries of Asia, fish is the main source of protein. Cooks of these nations dry or salt fish to prolong their usefulness as culinary ingredients.