Do you know of this iconic Chinese canned fish Fried Dace with Salted Black Bean, or 豆豉鯪魚? I'm pretty sure that if you're Chinese you will have grown up eating this delicious and unique canned fish at one point or the other. I'm also pretty sure that even if you're not Chinese you've probably seen this can of fish somewhere before. It has been a staple (a star even!) of Chinese canned food for many, many decades. We have an interesting little story about Fried Dace with Salted Black Bean that comes from my 老公's father who grew up in Guangzhou, China in a time when culture and food culture was flourishing there.
My 老公's father's brother 潘洪光was one of the top graphic designers in Guangzhou, China in the early twentieth century when modern graphic design was just finding its feet in China. He was a really gifted artist/designer and designed many iconic Chinese packaging designs for medicines, foods, etc that are even today still in use. Unfortunately being one of the firsts in the field has also meant that many of these graphic designers were largely uncredited even to this day. Sometimes I have found great books that gather and present the amazing graphic designs of those long ago days. But there are almost never credits to the designers, only credits to the companies that paid for the graphic design jobs. That is surely a real shame!
Our little story has to do with the label design for Pearl River Bridge Fried Dace with Salted Black Bean for which my 老公's father's brother was commissioned. While working on it, the designer was stuck on the design for the fish and called for his little brother's help. So my 老公's father went off to the market and found the freshest, most beautiful dace (mud carp 鯪魚) fish that he could find and brought it back to the studio where his brother immediately used the fish as a live model for the fish painting on this now famous, iconic canned fish label. Isn't it beautiful? Can you imagine the feeling of being so closely connected with an image on a such a ubiquitous commercial product label and seeing it everywhere? I think it was especially poignant for my 老公's father as his brother, with whom he was extremely close, passed away a long time ago.
This is the lovely Fried Dace with Salted Black Bean right out of the can. You can eat it straight out of the can as one dish of a Chinese style family meal or you can warm it up or cook it with some vegetables (see our easy and yummilicious recipe for Fried Dace with Salted Black Bean Stir Fried with Indian Lettuce 豆豉鯪魚炒油麥菜). Or a modern street classic is instant noodles with a bit of Fried Dace with Black Beans on top. (Yum, yum! My 老公 swears that this is the best way to eat 豆豉鯪魚!)
Fried Dace with Salted Black Bean definitely tastes way better than it looks, so if you're curious, do give it a try. It can be a bit addictive. The fish meat is no longer soft but sorta "jerkied", creating a nice slightly chewy texture. The bones are still in the fish but have softened to the point where you can eat them with just a bit of extra crunch. (Great way to get some extra calcium!) The dace is flavored already with savory spices and there is also the distinctive but mellow depth added by the black beans. When I was little I used to love to pick out the black beans one by one and pretend that I was chomping on insects. (Weird! But what can I say? I confess I still do that sometimes.)
A last word on Fried Dace with Salted Black Bean. You must buy the Pearl River Bridge brand! This is the original! All the other canned dace on the market are copycats brands that appeared after the monumental success of Pearl River Bridge Fried Dace with Salted Black Bean. We once bought a copycat can by accident (they try to make the copycat label look as close as possible to the original, of course) and the taste and texture just didn't cut it. Here's the logo below so you can know what you're looking for. Oh, and also there are two kinds, one with and one without black beans. Make sure to check carefully before buying and hope you enjoy your delicious Fried Dace with Salted Black Bean!
Steamed Salted Sun Dried Fish 蒸南倉鹽鮮魚
Fried Dace with Salted Black Bean Stir Fried with Indian Lettuce 豆豉鯪魚炒油麥菜
Rabbit Fish Steamed with Tangerine Peel 果皮蒸泥鯭