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What Is Ying Yang Fish?

Ying Yang Fish, a controversial dish from Taiwan, presents a stark ethical dilemma. It's prepared alive, aiming to demonstrate freshness, but raises serious animal welfare concerns. As we navigate the complexities of culinary traditions and humane treatment, one must ponder: where should we draw the line between cultural practices and ethical responsibility? What's your stance on this delicate balance?
Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins

In Japan, the slicing of live seafood is known as ikizukuri and is employed as a way to ensure freshness, particularly since the meat is then eaten raw as sashimi. For China and particularly its island paradise of Taiwan, a few styles of preparation involve eating seafood while it is still alive, such as ying yang fish. This method involves scaling, gutting and then battering the lower half of a live carp, then holding it by the mouth and frying its bottom half in oil. Once partially cooked, the still-live fish is doused in a sweet-and-sour sauce and served while still moving its mouth.

According to The China Post, ying yang fish is also called "dead-and-alive fish" by the Chinese. The dish was especially popular as many as three decades ago in Taiwan's Taoyuan County — the paper states, when area restaurants sought customers by touting the ultimate freshness of their ingredients. Most chefs in 2011, however, appear to shun the practice of eating the creatures while still alive, perhaps due to overwhelming outrage from animals rights groups.

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China started to crack down on the practice of preparing ying yang fish, or yin yang yu, in the 21st century, particularly on its satellite island of Taiwan. Though some consider the method ideal for displaying the freshness of a kitchen's seafood, not all Chinese are on board. A few online reports on the practice indicate fairly widespread abhorrence for the practice, even among the 1,300,000,000 Chinese people.

Nevertheless, the preparation of ying yang fish appears to be holding on throughout China. According to The Telegraph of the United Kingdom, a viral video in 2009 showed the method to be an apparently still-used novelty practice that drew the ire of more than 100,000 viewers within a week. After the non-profit People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) railed against the practice, calling it "disgusting," a Chinese official pointed to the western traditions of fox hunting and bullfighting to show how all cultures have customs that might be perceived as repugnant.

Another live-food Chinese delicacy that draws the ire of some animal rights groups is called drunken shrimp. In western cultures this name is used to describe a range of booze-laced cooked shrimp dishes, but in China the shrimp are eaten while alive and swimming drunk on a sweet style of alcohol called baijiu. This drunken imposition reportedly makes the shrimp a little easier to behead and eat while still twitching.

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Discussion Comments


@clintflint - I wouldn't want to do it myself, but I don't think it's on the same level as bullfighting. I mean, most fish that get eaten in the wild are going to end up being eaten alive. I don't really see the point of it myself, but I don't think it's the worst thing I've ever heard of either.


@Fa5t3r - The thing is, I just don't think we should take that chance. Why add more suffering to the world so that you can experience the difference in flavor between a fish that has been dead for a few minutes and one that is almost dead? It's basically a party trick and no loss to the world if we don't let people indulge in it any more.

Just because people do things like bullfighting (which I don't think is right either) doesn't give others the right to be cruel as well.


I'm torn about this, to be honest. I really don't like the idea, but I also just don't think that fish can experience pain in the same way that mammals can. And they are right, we do far worse things to mammals like lab rats for longer periods, with full knowledge that they can and are experiencing pain.

I'm sure that when they fry the fish, they can't do it for long or the fish will die off completely. I also suspect that what they call a "live" fish is more likely just the reactions of the nerves, still firing after the fish itself is braindead. So is this really that bad a practice?

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