Chin-Ind Foe Yong Hai

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Fishy name

Fig 1: Chinese style Furongdan - Wikimedia

Foe yong hai is a dish found in many Chinese-Indonesian restaurants, and a signature of the Chin-Ind cuisine. The dish found its way to the Netherlands from China and underwent quite a few changes along the way, resulting in a few peculiarities.

The name foe yong hai, by which many Dutch know the dish, originated in the Qing dynasty (1636-1912). Chinese scholar Zhu Shanxiang 朱善祥 ate a similar egg dish in Yunnan, which he believed resembled the hibiscus flower, Fu Rong 芙蓉 in Mandarin, foe yong in Cantonese. Hence, Zhu Shanxiang named the dish fu rong dan 芙蓉蛋 , i.e. “hibiscus egg”. Foe Yong Hai consists of an omelet with sauce. The omelet is made of roughly five cracked eggs with various kinds of vegetables, like mushrooms, carrot, bamboo shoots, leek etc. Ingredients such as meat or seafood can also be added if so desired. Originally, according to the hai in Foe Yong Hai 芙蓉蟹, the dish should contain hai ‘crab’.Foe yong hai derives its name from the Cantonese pronunciation of the Chinese characters 芙蓉蟹, which are pronounced as fu rong xie in Mandarin Chinese, where the last character means crab. Before the dish traveled to the Netherlands, crab was indeed added in many foe yong recipes. Instead, most of the foe yong hai’s in the Netherlands are made of egg with a variety of vegetables and sometimes protein to one's liking. But why are all foe yong hai’s named foe yong hai?

In English, the dish is often called Eggs foo young, staying closer to the meaning of the Chinese word. When ordering a foe yong hai met kipfilet in the Netherlands, there is an interesting process: this dish should actually entail an omelet with crab and chicken, but crab is not added in this case. What the customer gets is the classic omelet dish with chicken, while in fact, foe yong hai with chicken should be called foe yong gai, with gai being the pronunciation of chicken 鸡 in Cantonese.

When asking a family member who grew up in China about the name, I had assumed that the dish came from Indonesia due to its name. The realization that the name was Chinese and contains the word for crab was interesting.