As families prepare to celebrate Lunar New Year , fish maw – the dried swim bladders of large fish such as sturgeon – will be on the menu for many. Netflix show Bling Empire may have brought the delicacy to the world’s attention when Kevin Kreider and Kane Lim gaped over the expensive displays in an LA apothecary with Jessey Lee, but fish maw has been prized in China for centuries. It has a mild flavour and unique, gently chewy texture. This luxurious ingredient is also touted for being rich in collagen and its supposed medicinal qualities. 6 places to eat poon choi with a twist in Hong Kong this Lunar New Year But high-quality fish maw can sell for eye-watering prices of up to US$2,000 per kg, and its popularity has contributed to overfishing of endangered species such as croaker and sturgeon in recent decades. Known as buche in Mexico where it is sourced from, totoaba maw is so valuable it is nicknamed the “cocaine of the sea”. International trade in totoaba bladders is banned, but can fetch up to US$129,000 per kg on the black market in China. Hong Kong-based food tech start-up Avant Meats is part of a wave of new firms working to find a sustainable solution for the growing demand for meat and seafood. Avant uses cultivated cell technology to produce its maw – growing real fish cells in a bioreactor, without killing or catching any fish. The resultant maw is “clean” and can be grown without any of the contaminants commonly found in seafood. Hong Kong’s most giftable luxury Lunar New Year puddings While there are numerous start-ups worldwide developing cultured meats, including pioneer Memphis Meats in Silicon Valley and Singapore’s Eat Just, Avant is the first and only cultivated fish company in China. Carrie Chan, who co-founded Avant in 2018 with company CSO Dr Mario Chin, explains that Avant decided to enter the market with fish maw partly because it has a simple biological composition and texture, and because of its value. “We started with fish maw because it has a high selling price, making it easy to reach price parity earlier”, says Chan. “It is also highly food-culture relevant – we have already received interest from Hong Kong Chinese restaurant chains.” In November 2019, Avant served its cultivated maw to the public for the first time, during the Food’s Future Summit event at Asia Society. “Traditionally, fish maw is prepared in savoury soup. For this [tasting], we created a fusion recipe with our chef for the diverse audience”, says Chan. For the inaugural tasting, executive chef Tom Burney of Invisible Kitchen concocted an “East meets West” recipe with ginger, garlic and lemongrass. The maw was served embedded inside a deep-fried potato croquette. Will vegan dairy alternatives be the ‘next Beyond Meat’ success story? “[Avant’s maw] has a very interesting texture – crunchy, the inside is a bit glutinous, a bit gelatinous,” said Burney during the event. Scarlett Ho, an investment manager with venture capital firm Gobi Partners, was among the first members of the public to try Avant’s cultivated maw. 7 of the best Lunar New Year special edition whisky bottles “It’s exciting to try this prototype,” she said at the tasting event. “I usually have fish maw in a Chinese style, but this time in a Western style, it was a unique combination with the potato. Mostly it was very crispy outside, and inside it was very soft and gentle, especially in the centre – spongy and sticky, I think because of the collagen.” George Tee, chief technology officer at Hong Kong Science Park, enjoyed the dish and the entire experience. “I was not expecting it to be a fusion type of food,” he said. “But the taste of it came as a surprise. Not only the texture – you can taste the fish maw, but the entire experience felt like a leap into the future.” Unfortunately, there have been no further public tastings due to the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak, although the company continues to hold private tastings. Which Hong Kong and Macau restaurants just got their first Michelin star? On December 2 the Singapore Food Agency approved Eat Just’s cultivated “chicken bites” for commercial sale. It is the first time a cultivated product has been approved for public sale, marking a significant milestone for the industry going forward. Research firm MarketsandMarkets projects the global cultivated meat market will be valued at US$214 million by 2025, growing to US$593 million by 2032. “We are very happy to see the first approval case of cultivated meat in Singapore,” says Chan. “It sends a good signal and increases the level of confidence for commercialisation for investors looking into the alternative protein space.” Chan adds that Avant is now in discussion with the Singapore regulator, and is keenly following compliance development in other jurisdictions. On January 25, the company announced a new strategic partnership with Vietnam’s Vinh Hoan Corporation, the world’s largest pangasius fish producer, in a move set to help advance Avant’s sales network and help commercialise its products more rapidly. Hongkongers eat the equivalent of two hamburgers each every day – is it too much? Avant closed a US$3.1 million seed funding round in December and is looking to reach pilot production by 2022. The company has a fish fillet in the pipeline and plans to commercialise a collagen ingredient for use in cosmetics by 2022. Chan points out that the global seafood market, set to reach over US$206 billion by 2026, is disproportionately skewed towards Asian consumers – adding that, at 70kg per person per year, Hongkongers eat over three times the global average of seafood. “For the fish and seafood we consume, about half are farmed, and half are still caught from the ocean,” says Chan. “It is important to offer an alternative way to supply the fish so that we allow the ocean to replenish.” Want more stories like this? Sign up here. Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter .