Salted Fish Sauce with Herbs (2018)

The Ups and Downs of salted fish industry
With its mild climate, Hong Kong once developed a thriving fishery, which not only formed a major part of the city’s economy but also propelled other industries forward- one of which was salted fish making. While Hong Kong’s Fine harbours and bays allowed easy anchoring of fishing boats, its beaches were ideal locations for sun-drying sea produce – all these geographical advantages contributed to the rise of the salted fish industry in Hong Kong.

The city was known for its sea salt production, too. Owing to the lack of refrigeration equipments in the past, it used to be very difficult to keep catches fresh. Fishermen therefore stored a large amount of sea salt on their boats. The fish were preserved in salt and to be sold in nearby bazaars upon landing.
In 1977, the most fatal blow to the industry was a research claiming that “slated fish is cancerous”. Then, medical professionals pointed out that eating salted fish could cause cancer in 1986. The news shook the whole industry. In addition, with local catches declining each year, many slated fish businesses folded or else they survived by selling dried seafood.

Nevertheless, the decrease in global catches and the loss of veteran practitioners make the future of the industry uncertain. The lack of professionals is a particularly serious issue, as certain procedures are niche skills. Even insiders regard the industry as “offensive”, (as the pungent smell of salted fish would stink the worker and everywhere he or she goes.) so very few young people want to pursue a career in the field. It is believed that the traditional craft of slated fish making will soon be lost.

Salted fish sauce with herb
Salted fish was once a household essential in the early days of Hong Kong. However it's not the case anymore now. There are some major reasons why salted fish lose its popularity.

1.    Shrinking of family size results in less consumption of preserved food. Salted fish in particular was once used to serve a regular family of size 6-7. As the size of family is shrinking to 2-3 members, they no longer have the ability to consume the whole fish, or they don’t want to keep it in the fridge for such long time.

2.    Longer working hour making less chance to cook and dine at home. Which also means it's even a rare chance to pick up a salted fish and cook.

3.    The affection of western food culture. As different kinds of western cuisine have blossomed in Hong Kong since the 50s. Hong Kong young people grow up with eating western food like pasta, burger and fries. Salted fish isn't the food they actually familiar with.

In response, Kay, as a social designer, believes that a good social design are not the empty idea but build in the social context. Those traditions contain local history and identity and, are the key components of community life that bond Hong Kong people together. With the shift in the economic structure, modern lifestyle and shrinking salted fish market, developing a new local product can preserve the local cultural value. In 2015, she developed a Sai Ying Pun themed “Salted Fish Sauce with Herbs” to fit in modern lifestyle nowadays. It is much more convenient for people to cook. The portion of the sauce can fit for the family of 2-3 members so that they do not need to keep the food for so long at home. In order to enhance the flavor and texture, the sauce contains a lot of herbs, pepper and chili which could be good for cooking with pasta and noodles. Today, the salted fish sauce gets a lot of positive feedback. The locals and salted fish industry also support the outcome. Kay believes that the disappearing smell and taste could simulate Hong Kong people’s appetite again.

Information supported by: The Conservancy Association Centre for Heritage (CACHe)