Have You Eaten Yet? Where To Get Faux Shark Fin In Los Angeles

When I’m not blogging about Chinese food, I’m an assistant web producer at KCET. It’s a wonderful full-time job and on top of my daily obligations for the web, I’ve been recruited as a food columnist for the site.

Each week, I’ll be rolling out a new feature on Monday. The column is titled “Have You Eaten Yet,” a common greeting among the Chinese.

My first post is an extensive look on imitation shark fin and other alternatives to the delicacy now that the California shark fin ban is in place. A special thank you to Sunny Wan, a wonderful SGV supplier and source who has helped out in multiple articles. Most of the information in this article was obtained from Wan, who treated me to faux shark fin, bird’s nest and fish maw at Ocean Star in Monterey Park.

“Finish it. It’s expensive,” he told me after the interview — like a true Chinese man.

And for the sake of research and simple Chinese etiquette, I downed all of it. Enjoy.


No one craves shark fin.

It’s tasteless, expensive and sort of a once-a-year type of deal that you find at wedding banquets. With the exception of a little bit of protein, it doesn’t even have any real nutritional value. It’s only a delicacy because it’s so pricey.

For Californians, the fins have officially been banned as of July 1st. But for those who are curious or simply looking for another soup alternative to their fancy Chinese banquet, there are plenty of options like fish maw and bird’s nest to give to your guests and impress your in-laws with. And if you’re still that set on shark fin, there’s imitation shark fin out there in market that looks and tastes just like the original.

An Introduction

Fish maw, faux shark fin and bird’s nest soup from Ocean Star/ Photo by Clarissa Wei

Called yuchi (鱼翅) in Chinese, shark fin has been a Chinese delicacy since the Ming Dynasty. It’s a banquet staple — a sign of prosperity and wealth, because only the rich can afford it.

The fin is grated into vermicelli-like strands, and is typically sold processed and dried. A single pound costs anywhere from $200 to $100,000. It’s usually served in soup form and a bowl averages out to $30 to $50 per person.

Because the delicacy itself is flavorless, the thick soup, traditionally infused with chicken, smoked ham and pork bones, is a huge focal point that takes hours to whip up.

The Ban

The state of California banned shark fin on July 1st, joining six other states in an attempt to preserve the shark populations around the world. Signed into law in October 2011, anyone caught in violation of the law can face a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $1000 fine.

The ban was met with quite a bit of controversy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is currently promoting a bill in Congress, pushed by commercial fisheries, that would supersede legislation outlawing shark finning.

“It’s terrible,” said Sunny Wan, who is a seafood supplier for major Chinese restaurants in Los Angeles . “Shark fin is only of value because it’s hard to get.”

The Alternatives

Like real shark fin, the alternatives have clear, gelatinous textures that don’t have much of a taste by themselves. These products are sold dried and need to be soaked in water for hours before it’s cooked.

Find out what the alternatives are, here on KCET: http://bit.ly/15zdymW