February 20, 2008

Fish maw

The most expensive meal I've had in the last few years was at Japanese restaurant in Taipei. One of the dishes that I did not recognize was a long white thing that tasted like neither meat nor vegetable. It looked like a mushroom more than anything else. It's taste was not strong--the texture is clearly what is unique about it. It was soft like soggy tofu. Clearly a delicacy. It wasn't bad, but I didn't hear anyone exclaiming how good it was.

My coworkers told me that it is biao ( 鰾, which is fourth tone according to the dictionary, but was pronounced as first tone by my coworker), a bladder that a fish fills with air to rise or sink in water.

I didn't think I was likely to see this dish again, but then I saw it again a couple of weeks ago, this time at a Chinese banquet. So, I decided to learn a little more about it. In English, it's called a fish maw or a swim bladder. A fish fills it with oxygen from the gills to increase its buoyancy, and lets out air to decrease buoyancy. Not all fish have one.

Next time someone asks me how to describe this fish organ in English, I will be able to give them the following unsatisfying answer: it's called a fish maw, a swim bladder, or a gas bladder; but there's a good chance that an English speaker won't know what you're talking about even if you manage to remember all of those terms.

Wikipedia entry: gas bladder
How stuff works explanation

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