Fish ball

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Fish ball
Fishball closeup.jpg
Fish ball closeup
Simplified Chinese鱼蛋 or 鱼旦
Traditional Chinese魚蛋 or 魚旦
Literal meaningfish egg
Alternative Chinese name
Simplified Chinese鱼丸
Traditional Chinese魚丸
Literal meaningfish ball
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Fish ball
Fishball closeup.jpg
Fish ball closeup
Simplified Chinese鱼蛋 or 鱼旦
Traditional Chinese魚蛋 or 魚旦
Literal meaningfish egg
Alternative Chinese name
Simplified Chinese鱼丸
Traditional Chinese魚丸
Literal meaningfish ball

Fish balls are a common food in southern China and overseas Chinese communities made from surimi (Chinese: 魚漿; Mandarin Pinyin: yújiāng; Jyutping: jyu4 zoeng1). They are also common in Scandinavia, where they are usually made from cod or haddock.


The term 魚蛋 (literally "fish eggs") is used at street hawker stalls and dai pai dong in Hong Kong, while 魚丸 (yú wán) and 鱼圆 (yú yuán) are more commonly used in Singapore and Malaysia.


Fish balls made in Scandinavia are similar to meatballs, only that they are mainly made of fish instead of pork or beef.

Meatballs made in Asia differ significantly in texture from their European counterparts. Instead of grinding and forming meats, meat used for making meatballs is pounded, which lends a smooth texture to the meatballs. This is also often the case for fillings in steamed dishes. Pounding, unlike grinding, uncoils and stretches previously wound and tangled protein strands in meat.

Regional variations[edit]

Steamed rice rolls with fish balls
Fish balls and kwek kwek (hard-boiled quail eggs fried in batter) in the Philippines
Fish balls with vermicelli sold in Bukit Batok, Singapore
Swedish fiskbullar, here served with dill sauce and pasta
Kaeng khiao wan luk chin pla: Thai green curry with fish balls

Faroe Islands[edit]

In Faroe Islands, fish balls are called knettir and are made with ground fish and fat.


In the Fuzhou area, "Fuzhou fish balls" (福州鱼丸) are made from fish and has minced pork filling within the fish ball.

Hong Kong[edit]

There are two kinds of fishballs sold in Hong Kong: yellow and white.

Yellow fish ball (street food)[edit]

Smaller in size, made from cheaper fish meat than white fish balls, they are usually sold at food stalls with five to seven fish balls on a bamboo skewer. The fish balls are usually boiled in a spicy curry sauce, with virtually every street stall creates their own recipes of curry satay sauce to differentiate their fish balls from other sellers. Fish balls are one of the most popular and representative "street foods" (街頭熟食) of Hong Kong.[1]

To reduce cost, yellow fish balls sold by street food stalls consist of less than 20% fish meat, and they are mass-produced in large quantities by factory machines to cater to the large consumptive needs of the people of Hong Kong.[2] The fish used in these factory produced fish balls are not selected under close supervision for quality and freshness, and monosodium glutamate (MSG) is added for flavor.

Yellow fishballs are distinct from the white fish balls served in restaurants, which are more expensive to produce and have a lesser proportion of flour, in terms of texture and flavor. Additionally, to produce white fish balls by hand would require more preparation and work on the part of the chef to ensure the quality of the fish balls produced before every business day.

Many of the stall owners who sell yellow fish balls depend on them as their sole support, similar to the hot dog stands in the United States.


In Hong Kong, the first fish ball was made and sold by hawkers between the 50's to 60's. Fish balls were produced and sold in this manner as a cheap, yet tasty and filling snack for the people. Although society has drastically changed since then, fish balls are still closely related to Hong Kong and its people in terms of its ubiquity, the flavour, the method of sales and their production. Subsequently, fish balls have spread throughout other parts of Asia.

Changes between years[edit]

Before the 1960s, people were faced with financial difficulties so they changed their occupation into becoming a hawker. However, since 1972, Hong Kong implemented “The Hong Kong Cleanup” action (清潔香港運動) in order to establish the sense of belonging for the local people and to keep a clean environment. After the improvement of the public's spirit and the environment, the uncleanliness and hygienic problems caused by hawkers became a focal point. From 1979 onward, the government stopped licensing hawkers for the reason of road blocking, and requested hawkers to relinquish their licenses through compensatory means in order to lessen the number of existing hawkers. In 1995, the government established two new policies which officially prohibited the existence of hawkers and fined those with licenses. In 2000, despite the fact that the government had loosened its supervisory control of hawkers in New Territories, the recent incident caused by arresting hawkers revealed their determination in executing this policy.[3]

The historical developments related to hawkers would directly affect the development of the fish ball. The ban against hawkers had changed the operation mode from vendors to street stalls. Nowadays, most of the people would prefer to buy them from the street stalls as opposed to the vendors.

Ingredients of fish balls[edit]

The basic ingredients are fish although flour and flavorings, such as salt and sugar, can also be used. The proportion of fish and flour depends on the quality and type of fish balls to be made. The white fish balls found in some traditional Hong Kong restaurants are made using only fresh fish; while the street fried fish balls are made by using cheap fish and a mixture of flour in order to reduce costs from the wholesale business. In the past, a wide variety and good quality of fish was used. But now the supply quality has become tensed for some reasons.[4] The commonly used fish to make fish balls include Flathead mullet (九棍魚/烏仔魚) and Daggertooth pike conger (門鱔).

Fish ball, the most popular and most common street food, was founded between the 50's and 60's. At that time, in order to reduce costs, the process of making fish balls was most likely done by mixing and frying the remaining materials of ChouZhou fish ball 潮州白魚丸 or stale fishes. Nowadays, fish balls sold in Hong Kong are mainly imported by wholesale businesses. Therefore, the texture of the fish ball does not vary too widely.[5] In recent years, fish balls are sold with different hot or curry sauces.

Prices of fish ball[edit]
Selling price[edit]

In general, the current market price in 2012 ranges from HKD$6 to HKD$9 per stick (with 5 fish balls); from HKD$15 to HKD$20 per small bowl (with 10 fish balls); and around HKD$30 per big bowl (with about 20 fish balls). Based on the current situation, we calculate that the price per fish ball is about HKD$1.5, which has increased by 50% compared to 5 years ago. For some stalls, the price has increased even more. For instance, in Tai Wai, the price jumped from $5 to $8 or an increase of 60% within two years.[6]

Wholesale price[edit]

When you consider the wholesale price of $16/kg (about 80 fish balls),[7] the cost per fish ball is $0.2. By selling one fish ball, a stall owner can earn $1.3. According to the owner of Jinwei 津味,[8] a famous fish ball stall operating its business in Mong Kok, Tsim Sha Tsui and Causeway Bay, he stated that the number of fish balls sold per day is 15,000. So the estimated net profit per day is almost $20,000, which is quite a pleasing amount.

Unprevailing price[edit]

Some stalls in Hong Kong are selling fish balls at an unexpected high price to tourists. For each bowl of fish balls sold to customers, the number of fish balls can vary. This just depends on the type of customer, i.e. local people or tourists. According to a reporter of SUN Life, he visited one of these stalls in Mong Kok and reported that an Australian tourist paid $40 for a big bowl containing 25 fish balls; while a local person paid $20 for a small bowl but had 30 fish balls.[9] Because this stall only sold 'a bowl of fish balls' and not 'fish balls on a stick' without a standardized quantity of fish balls per order, tourists would have been unable to ascertain if they were receiving an equivalent amount of fish balls per order as locals were, with the amount per bowl varying between each order. Even for two separate local customers, they were still given different numbers of fish balls for the same price.


The main reason behind the increased pricing of fish balls is because of uncontrolled rent increases. Particularly, the rent is extremely high in some tourist-prone areas such as Causeway Bay, Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui. One example is the fish ball stall located in Yee Woo Street, Causeway Bay. The rent in 2010 increased to $300,000 per month.[10] Although there was a large flow of paying customers at this stall, the revenue earned was not enough to cover the rental cost. In the end, the owner had no choice and was forced to shut down the business.

In some special places, such as flower market, the rental cost is even higher. According to the reporter of Sharp Daily, the weekly rent of a fish ball stall increased from $380,000 in 2011 to $510,000 in 2012, which was a 34% increase.[11] Based on the market situation in 2012, the net profit for each fish ball sold was approximately $1.1, that means the stall owner needed to sell at least 70,000 fish balls per day in order to break-even.[12] Considering the cost of labor, ingredients and other expenses, the stall owner estimated that he has to sell a stick of fish balls every 5 seconds to break-even.

Target customers[edit]

The targeted group of customers include lower class, working class and middle class. The price level is still acceptable and affordable by these groups of people. Most of the working-class people are accustomed to eating fish balls after work or after dinner. They care less about manners and hygienic issues. They don't mind eating on the street nor concerned about the seemingly unhygienic street food. On the other hand, due to the low quality of fish ball ingredients, perceived bad eating manners and unsafe hygienic operations and the eating environment, the high income classed people or celebrities seldom or never buy from the stalls on the street. They need to protect their social status and avoid breaking the shared norm or values created among the collective groups in Hong Kong, as described in the sociological imagination. Once they break this social norm, they will appear in the news or in a magazine within a few days. For instance, Fiona Sit,[13] Ken Hung and Vincy Chan[14] were once being photographed by a paparazzi while they were eating fish balls on the street.

Innovative way in engaging fish ball business[edit]

To cope with the challenge of rising rental costs in Hong Kong, fish ball stall owners try to use different strategies in an attempt to increase their profit margin. In 2004, Ng Han Wai, successfully innovated a fish ball vending machine and in the same year started his own business.[15] The first fish ball vending machine was located in the Sha Tin MTR station. Customers can buy a cup of fish balls by inserting a $5 coin or using the Octopus card which is quite convenient. All the processes are machine-automated to ensure a good quality of hygiene. From this innovative way of selling fish balls, we can see that Ng had changed the traditional way of doing business, a rationalized and humanized mode (fish ball stalls) to a new rationalized and mechanical mode (fish ball vending machine)of doing business. Under this new system, everything is done electronically with standardized selling and processing procedures. Human error can be greatly avoided.

The rent for these machines are definitely lower than the street stall's. According to Ng, each machine sold about 80 cups of fish ball per day, together with the revenue from advertisement and franchisee fees, he estimated that it only took half and a year to break-even. Unfortunately, he tried to commit suicide in 2005 due to some personal reasons, causing all his business come to a standstill.

White fish ball[edit]

White fish balls are larger in size and made with only fish, no other ingredients are added, and then boiled till done. As a result of this cooking method, these fish balls are white in color. A good fish ball should have an elastic (bouncy) and fluffy texture and a strong taste of fish. They are made using a more costly fish, and has a considerably different texture and taste. This kind is usually eaten as a compliment with noodles at Chiuchow-style noodle restaurants,[16] and at some cha chaan tengs, which also sell beef balls (牛丸) and cuttlefish balls (墨魚丸). Readily available in traditional markets and supermarkets, fish balls are also a popular ingredient for hot pot.

Traditional Hong Kong fish ball restaurants (老字號魚蛋店)[17] all agree that “good fish” is the key in making good fish balls. They insist on using certain kinds of fresh fish and not adding flour. 九棍 fish are said to be good for giving it a strong taste of fish (魚味). However, these fish are now becoming rare and hard to catch. Other fish, such as 紅衫 fish, are becoming more expensive. These traditional restaurants are all facing the same problem, limited, specific fish supplies and increasing ingredient costs. The cost of these fish supplies have increased two to threefold in recent years. White fish balls from the traditional fish ball restaurants are regarded as the true fish ball because they have a higher quality. They are only made from fresh fish and only fresh fish. These fish balls are normally hand-made (手打) by the owners using traditional techniques. The price of these fish balls is usually higher. However, using the same ingredients, hand-made fish balls are still far better than the machine-made ones.

Fish ball store and social media[edit]

Fish ball stores appeared in social media with multiple images. They do not only represent the unique eating culture of Hong Kong but also act as famous attractions in Hong Kong.

Big golden fish ball - Cheung Chau[edit]

This is a very famous snack in Cheung Chau. It is a must-have item for tourists visiting Cheung Chau. Many visitors have shared their comments on Cheung Chau's fish balls in online forums, such as Open Rice.

Selling price[edit]

Due to the inflation in Hong Kong, the price has risen more than 60% within 2 years. In 2010, two Big Golden fish balls were sold at $6. In 2012, they were selling for $10.

Unique selling points[edit]

There are several unique selling points of big golden fish balls compared to the normal ones sold on the street: size, sauce, and texture. As reflected in the name, the size is larger; they can be fist-sized. Big Golden fish ball is served with a special curry sauce. Big Golden fish ball is mainly made from fresh fish which makes the texture more al dente than the cheap fish ball usually sold.

Examples - famous fish ball stores[edit]

1. Kam Wing Tai Fish Ball Store G/F, 106 San Hing Street, Cheung Chau

2. Sun Jiu Kee Snacks Store 3 Tung Wan Street, Cheung Chau

3. Cheung Chau Cheung Kee 83A Praya Street, Cheung Chau


In Indonesia, fish balls are called bakso ikan (fish bakso). The most popular bakso are made of beef, but fish bakso is also available, served with tofu and fish otak-otak in clear broth soup as tahu kok, or thinly sliced as additional ingredients in mie goreng, kwetiau goreng, and cap cai. A similar dish made of fish is called pempek.

Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore[edit]

Fish balls are cooked in many ways in Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore. They can be served with soup and noodles like the Chiuchow style or with yong tau foo. There is also a type called fish ball mee pok.


The most commonly eaten type of fish balls is colloquially known simply as fish balls. It is somewhat flat in shape and most often made from the meat of cuttlefish or pollock and served with a sweet and spicy sauce or with a thick, black, sweet and sour sauce.

Fish balls in the Philippines are sold by street vendors pushing wooden deep-frying carts. The balls are served skewered, offered with a choice of three kinds of dipping sauces: spicy (white/orange colored) - vinegar, water, diced onions and garlic; sweet (brown gravy colored) - corn starch, banana ketchup, sugar and salt; and sweet/sour (amber or deeper orange colored) - the sweet variety with lots of small hot chilis added. Dark sauces are rare, as these are soy sauce-based and soy sauce is expensive in terms of food cost for street food. A recent trend in the Philippine fish ball industry is the introduction of 'ball' varieties: chicken, squid (cuttlefish actually), and kikiam. The last are low cost renditions vaguely resembling the original Chinese delicacy of the same (soundwise) name.


Fiskbullar in Sweden and fiskeboller in Norway are usually bought in cans. In Sweden, they are normally served with mashed potatoes or rice, boiled green peas and dill, caviar or seafood sauces. In Norway, they are commonly served with potatoes and white sauce made with the stock from the can, sometimes with added curry.


In Thai cuisine, fish balls are also very popular. They are usually fried or grilled to be eaten as a snack. In Chinese-influenced restaurants, fish balls are cooked in noodle soups and come in many varieties. They can also be eaten in a Thai curry. Kaeng khiao wan luk chin pla is green curry with fish balls.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Curry fish balls & Temple Street, Hong Kong". 21 October 2007. Retrieved 12 August 2012. 
  2. ^ "Street Fish Balls From The Factory". Retrieved 18 December 2012. 
  3. ^ Hung Wai Sum,2001,《大城市小人物──小販》
  4. ^ "Traditional Fish Balls (Hardship In Fish Supplies)". Retrieved 18 December 2012. 
  5. ^ 《50經典小吃》刊於2003/01/10《飲食男女》
  6. ^ "Fish Ball Price in Tai Wai increased sharply". Retrieved 1 December 2012. 
  7. ^ "General wholesale price of fish ball". Retrieved 17 December 2012. 
  8. ^ "Jinwei in Mong Kok". Retrieved 1 December 2012. 
  9. ^ "蠱惑魚蛋檔". Retrieved 12 December 2012. 
  10. ^ "Expensive rent in Causeway Bay". Retrieved 1 December 2012. 
  11. ^ "年宵檔天價$51萬成交 (2012)". Retrieved 3 December 2012. 
  12. ^ "Sell 70,000 fish balls to break-even". Retrieved 1 December 2012. 
  13. ^ "Fiona Sit ate fish ball on the street". Retrieved 1 December 2012. 
  14. ^ "Ken Hung and Vincy Chan captured by paparazzi on the street". Retrieved 1 December 2012. 
  15. ^ "First Fish Ball Vending machine". Retrieved 3 December 2012. 
  16. ^ Man, Joyce "Aberdeen's best fish ball shop to close" CNN Go. 24 February 2012. Retrieved 2012-03-04
  17. ^ "Traditional Way in Making Fish Balls". Retrieved 18 December 2012. 

External links[edit]