Yu Sheng not only refers to a delectable, light and refreshing hearty salad platter of rainbow-coloured vegetables and fruit with slices of raw fish (usually salmon) tossed in a sweet plum sauce and other condiments (each carrying a symbolic and auspicious meaning to the Chinese) the tossing of Yu Sheng is a very meaningful ritual to unite loved ones and friends together in ringing in the Lunar New Year, both celebrating and proclaiming the blessings to come.
My Homemade Yusheng Recipe
One of our favourite must-dos during the Lunar New Year festivities would be the traditional ‘tossing high’ or what the Cantonese Chinese call ‘Lo Hei’. Better known as ’Yu Sheng’ (Mandarin) or ‘Yee Sang’ (Cantonese) in Singapore, Yu Sheng not only refers to a delectable, light and refreshing hearty salad platter of rainbow-coloured vegetables and fruit with slices of raw fish (usually salmon) tossed in a sweet plum sauce and other condiments (each carrying a symbolic and auspicious meaning to the Chinese) the tossing of Yu Sheng is a very meaningful ritual to unite loved ones and friends together in ringing in the Lunar new year, both celebrating and proclaiming the blessings to come. The fun part is everyone gleefully making a huge mess whilst trying to beat one another in tossing their chopsticks as high as one could go—it’s believed that the higher you toss, the higher your blessings get!
Yu Sheng means ‘Raw Fish’ if literally translated, hence the use of raw fish slices in the salad as the Chinese words ‘Yu Sheng’ is deemed to be an ‘auspicious pun’ to also mean ‘ever increasing prosperity’. ‘Nian Nian You Yu’ in Mandarin simply means ‘May you have an increase in abundance through the year’. This is because ‘Fish’ (Yu) is symbolic of abundance, wealth and prosperity due to ‘Yu’ also sounding very similar and having the same intonation as the two Chinese words for ‘abundance’; which are ‘Duo Yu’—meaning ‘excess’.
Yu Sheng is popularly served as an entree to kickstart a luxurious Chinese banquet at restaurants and homes throughout Asia where the Lunar New Year is celebrated, especially in Malaysia and Singapore which were thought to have originated this tradition of ‘Lo Hei’ (meaning ‘tossing high’ Cantonese).
At this Lunar New Year of 2016 we haven’t managed to visit Singapore for Chinese New Year due to work and the new school term. Even though we miss being around loved ones and family back home and the Lunar New Year is just another regular work week in Australia, we’ve made it a point to celebrate with as much tradition and rigour as we can muster for the sake of raising our first generation Aussie-born kids to be acquainted with their cultural roots and traditions.
One of the ways we try to do this meaningfully is to introduce them to what we think is such a wonderful tradition of the ‘Lo Hei‘, ‘Yu Sheng’(in Mandarin) or ‘Yee Sang‘ (in Cantonese) ritual we have in Singapore each year. In the last few years we have been blessed to have the Yu Sheng kit for sale at the Asian supermarkets here. However, as it’s always been my mantra since I moved here to take it upon myself to learn how to re-create most of my favourite Asian recipes from the heart of my own kitchen, may I share with you a simple recipe on how to make Yu Sheng at home. Yes, you can do so even if you haven’t got the convenient Yu Sheng-making kit available wherever in the world you may be away from Singapore or Malaysia. Like with everything else, it always tastes so much better when you’ve made something with your own hands with love!
The 21st of Feb is the eve of the last day of the Lunar New Year. We’re capping it off with a feast to finish and of course, another session of ‘Yu Sheng’ with the kids.
As the Chinese people say, “Gong Xi Fa Cai, Nian Nian You Yu!” (Wishing you a prosperous New Year filled with bountiful blessings year after year)
Yu Sheng & Its Symbolic Meaning
OK so this is how you’re supposed to do ‘Lo Hei’:
Every diner at the table standing with their chopsticks at the ready. Note: You may wish to delegate the job of tossing into the salad, the following ‘special ingredients’:
Five Spice Powder & Pepper: Zhao Cai Jin Bao “May you attract blessings of wealth & treasures”
Sesame Oil: Yi Ben Wan Li “Wishing you a 10,000 fold increase”
Roasted peanuts: Jin Yin Man Wu – “May your home be overflow with gold and precious silver”
Sesame seeds: Sheng Yi Xing Long – “Wishing you prosperity in your business”
Plum Sauce Dressing – Tian Tian Mi Mi – “May you live a sweet life”
Crispy crackers: Bian Di Huang Jin, “May you overflow with gold”
As each ingredient above is added, everyone around the table unanimously proclaims (we do it at the top of our voice to add to the fun of it) the various auspicious blessings as they flip and toss the ‘Lo Hei’ salad! That’s it! Enjoy!
Lo Hei Salad Ingredients & Their Various Auspicious Meanings:
The following could be pre-assembled in the circular shape of a ‘wheel’
Carrots & Pickled red ginger: Hong Yun Dang Tou – “May good fortune shine on you”
Green Mango: Qing Chun Chang Zhu – “Wishing you eternal youth”
White radish: Feng Sheng Shui Qi – “Rise to greater heights in all you do”
Pomelo & lime juice: Da Ji Da Li ‘ “Wishing you good luck and victory over all challenges”
Raw Fish: Nian Nian You Yu – “May you have abundance in the new year”
(Source: a pictorial ‘Lo Hei Guide’; overseassingaporean.sg)
Make Your Own Yu Sheng – Lo Hei Recipe
Ingredients for Yu Sheng (Mandarin) or Yee Sang (Cantonese):
Fried wonton skin wrappers (or ready-bought fried crackers)
1/2 daikon radish
1 lebanese cucumber
2 large carrots, skins off
1 green mango, sliced into strips (unless you want to dye radish green! or used preserved radish)
1 pomelo (or grapefruit as substitute)
1/2 cup preserved jellyfish (optional)
pickled red ginger, sliced into strips
500g salmon sashimi (raw salmon, sliced thinly into strips)
Salad Dressing For Yu Sheng (Mandarin) or Yee Sang (Cantonese):
1/2 to 1 C plum sauce (based on your preference)
1 TB honey
1 TB marmalade or any citrus fruit jam (like apricot or orange)
Reserve aside (to be added individually in stages):
Drizzle of sesame oil
1/2 C roasted peanuts (roughly crushed)
2 TB sesame seeds
1/2 tsp five-spice powder + 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
juice of 2 wedges of limes
Mix all the above wet ingredients and reserve the sesame seeds, roasted peanuts, five-spice powder, pepper and lime juice to be added in stages of the yu sheng tossing.
Deep fry the wonton skins in hot peanut oil (first cut them into 1/2” strips before frying). Drain on paper towels, set aside. Start shredding the carrots, daikon radish and cucumber into thin matchstick strips. You could even use a serrated vegetable peeler that does this quickly without a processor.
(Note: With the cucumber, you’ll want to first remove the core with the seeds so that you only get the dry portions. Otherwise you could squeeze the liquid out after shredding and let it drain on paper towels). Peel the skin off the green mango and slice the flesh into thin matchstick strips. Peel the pomelo or grapefruit as cleanly as you can to get to the little juicy segments of pulp without the bitter white outer skins. Tear the flesh into little bite-sized pieces.
Slice the salmon sashimi into thin strips.
Start assembling the pretty and colourful assortment of Yu Sheng ingredients like a ‘wheel’ (like playing the wheel of fortune…) beginning with the salmon slices in the centre of a large platter (make it your largest platter so that it’d get less messy!) Some like to roll it into the shape of a rose! Make mounds of each coloured vegetable and fruit according to its kind—green mango, carrots, daikon, cucumber, pomelo (or grapefruit) pieces, not forgetting the jellyfish and pickled red ginger.
For the dressing, combine only the plum sauce, honey and marmalade to mix well together.
Reserve the rest of the dry ingredients to be tossed in one by one as you elbow one another to toss your Yu Sheng as high as you can, while yelling out those positive proclamations! Go crazy!
Happy Lo Hei! Happy New Year to all!