Seafoods 6: Whitebait (海蝘)


Fresh sardine whitebait from the coasts of Italy. Chinese whitebait is almost always sold in dried form. Both are incredibly delicious. (Credit: Elisa Prato)

List of Seafoods::Whitebait[1]
Whitebait are small dried fish from Ningpo.[2] Their flavours are similar to dried shrimp and are very good in steamed egg.[3] When prepared well they also make excellent side dishes.[4]

Random notes:
[1]: Known as haiyan (海蝘) or “sea geckos”, which matches the visual description of these tiny translucent silvery speckled fish. Nowdays they are called haiting (海蜓), which translates as “sea dragonfly”. In any case, both sound way better than the unappetizing term “whitebait”. Truth be told, I was tempted to go with the Italian term for this food, “bianchetti”, since any thing with an Italian name seems to sounds sophisticated, exotic, and possibly delicious to the Western ear. Well, give it to the English to ruin yet another food by name.

[2]: Ningbo, a coastal city of Zhejiang. Renown for seafood in China and throughout Chinese history.

[3]: Only if they are small (~2-3mm in body width), the large kinds (>4mm) are better stir-fried to make side dishes or snacks for drinks.

[4]: I really like to eat these things, especially the tiny ones. All you have to do is stir-fry them dry and eat them with rice as a topping. Simply incredible. Problem is, eating fish fry and fishing them possibly one of the most destructive things on can do to a fish population and their local ecology. I mean, what better way is there to wipe-out a species by eating all its childern before they reach reproductive age? Given the state of our environment now, I can’t find it in me to go eat this anymore even though a part of me craves it. I bet this is how vegans feel sometime.


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