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A Picture Guide to Dried Seafood and its Nutritional and Health Benefits

By Sarah Moran 28 November 2018
Hong Kong people love the flavours of the sea. Dried seafood, or “hoi mei” in Cantonese, which literally means “sea flavour", is an age-old Chinese tradition that plays a big role in festive banquets, everyday cooking, and even health. However, for the uninitiated, trying to shop at a seafood store may leave you feeling like Harry Potter attempting to navigate Diagon Alley in search of school supplies for the first time – clueless and confused. So, to help you out, we shed some light on some of the most interesting dried seafood you can find in Hong Kong, and what nutritional and health benefits they offer.

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Sea Cucumber | “Hoi Sum” (海參)

Benefits: Increases immune system, prevents cardiovascular problems, and improves general health for pregnant women. As funny as sea cucumbers look (yes, we know what you’re thinking), they are in fact a delicious delicacy often used in Chinese dishes and soups. With a dark, leather-like skin, this oddly shaped marine animal is rich in protein, calcium, and iron. Sea cucumbers are also very low in cholesterol, making them particularly popular among the older generation.

Black Moss | “Fat Choy” (髮菜)

Benefits: Lowers blood pressure, clears “yeet hei” (accumulated heat and toxins), and improves respiratory system. Fat choy directly translates to “hair vegetables” in English, which is exactly what it looks like – long, thick, scraggly black hair. Not the most appealing thing to have on your dinner plate we know, but fat choy is an especially popular ingredient when Chinese New Year comes around. This is because fat choy has a similar pronunciation as “have fortune” in Cantonese, and so it is customary for Hongkongers to eat fat choy during the festival in hopes that this will bring them good luck and fortune.

Lingzhi Mushroom | “Ling Jee” (靈芝)

Benefits: Boosts immune system, improves lung condition, improves blood circulation, fights pathogenic infections, and enhances the immune system of cancer patients or those with hepatic diseases. A staple in Chinese medicine, the Lingzhi mushroom is often hailed as the "mushroom of immortality" and "medicine of kings" for its ability to treat a wide range of health conditions. While these have historically been prepared as teas or infusions, you can also find them in capsules, tinctures, energy drinks, and even coffee blends.

Dried Abalone | "Gon Bao Yu" (乾鮑魚)

Benefits: Relieves dry coughs and fever, improves vision and liver function. Abalone is like the caviar of Chinese culture. These dried sea snails are considered one of the four main delicacies of the sea, as well as a symbol of wealth and prosperity, making it a must-have at Chinese banquets, feasts, and festivities. Dried abalone is usually soaked for a few days before boiling it with chicken or pork ribs. The texture is chewy and meaty – a bit like mushrooms – and are best served with oyster sauce.

Fish Maw | "Fa Gao" (花膠)

Benefits: Replenishes kidneys and boosts stamina, a great source of collagen, protein, and nutrients. Fish Maw, also known as "swim bladders", are another highly coveted dried seafood. This Chinese delicacy is high in collagen, which helps to improve your skin tone and tissue health. Fish Maws come in all shapes and sizes, usually from fish such as croaker, cod, and basa species. The ones from smaller fish are commonly used in cooking soup, while those from larger specimens are typically consumed for specific medical benefits.

Dry Scallop | "Gon Yiu Chu" (乾瑤柱)

Benefits: Good source of protein, calcium phosphate, potassium, and magnesium. High in zinc and vitamins such as A, B, and D. Made from the abductor muscle of scallops, dried scallops nourish the kidneys, invigorate the liver, and remove body heat. The cube-like seafood is a common fixture in Cantonese cooking, usually put in soups, fried rice, congee, and other dishes to give a sweet, umami flavour.

Snow Fungus | "Syut Yi" (雪耳)

Benefits: Nourishes the lungs, removes heat, replenishes the blood and brain, and strengthens the heart. Also rich in nutrients and promotes immunity in the body. Snow fungus is an edible fungus that has been called the "poor man's bird nest" for its comparable health benefits which can be bought at a much lower price than the actual bird's nest delicacy. Despite its name, high-quality snow fungus is actually yellowish in colour, and ones that are completely white have usually been bleached – so stay away from those! Cooked snow fungus has a jelly-like texture, and is used in both sweet and savoury soups.
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Sarah Moran

Former staff writer

Born and raised in Hong Kong to expat parents, Sarah grew up as your typical third-culture kid, caught between two worlds. As someone who is nosy (or just curious) and loves the written word, there was never any other career that appealed to her as much as journalism. When she’s not busy on her mission to find the line between not enough coffee and too much coffee, you can find her exploring the city or getting stuck in a good book.