My Destination Singapore Kitchen- Yu Sheng

Food & Drink

The higher you toss, the greater will be your fortune

Myriam Ohlig for My Guide Singapore
 
During the Chinese New Year festivities, there are tons of auspicious delicacies and treats enjoyed at home and at work. But the most popular Chinese New Year dish in Singapore, which is mostly found here and in Malaysia, is certainly the sweet and fresh Yu Sheng salad. Traditionally eaten on the 7th day of the Lunar New Year calendar -called Ren Ri (人日) - on Thursday 6 February 2014- and known as the day when man was created-, the Yu Sheng is now widely eaten throughout the whole festive season.
This is not an ordinary dish. Besides being a light, quick and easy salad recipe, sharing a Yu Sheng among families, colleagues and clients during the Lunar New Year season, is believed to bring good fortune and prosperity to those present at the table. All you need to do is to pick the right auspicious ingredients, recite the right sayings as you add them in, then toss the salad in a very auspicious way. 
Although the amount of ingredients can vary from a restaurant to another, we’ve chosen the most popular 12-ingredient Yu Sheng recipe. In this edition of My Guide Singapore Kitchen, you’ll learn the meanings and the sayings behind this joyful tradition and how to toss the Yu Sheng like a local so that next time you’ll have the chance to partake to a Yu Sheng Lo Hei in Singapore, you’ll be blessed with the whole amount of good fortune and prosperity possible and you’ll even be able to impress your friends and clients with some auspicious sayings.
Around 100 Yu Sheng Plates for the Annual Mass Reunion Dinner during Chinese New Year Celebrations

Origins

The origins of the Yu Sheng salad traced back to the time when a raw-fish salad was eaten in the province of Guangdong in China to celebrate the day when man was created -Ren Ri (人日)-.  Brought to the South East Asia region by the Teochew population who migrated there, the dish consisted of raw sliced fish and shredded vegetable only seasoned with oil, vinegar and sugar. The modern version which has become a tradition typically Singaporean, was introduced by four local master chefs in the early 60s. Tham Yew Kai, Lau Yoke Pin, Sing Leong and Hooi Kok Wai became so popular with this recipe that they became known as the “Four Heavenly Kings” in the Chinese culinary world. 

Yu Sheng Prepared by Select Group with 16 Auspicious Ingredients

Ingredients

Although some Yu Sheng recipes can include not less than 27 auspicious ingredients and some Chinese restaurants replace the fish by some more desirable ingredients such as lobster or abalone, we’ve chosen here a popular version with 12 ingredients, which each a special meaning. These ingredients are available in any grocery store except perhaps for the Pok Chui Crackers that you’ll certainly find at your usual Asian grocer. 
  • Fresh Salmon Fish thinly sliced for abundance
  • Lime or Pomelo (flesh cut in small pieces) for luck and auspicious value
  • Pepper Powder for wealth
  • Cinnamon Powder for treasures
  • Plum Sauce for sweet and pleasant relationships
  • Vegetable Oil (except olive oil) for huge profit
  • Carrot (evenly shredded) for luck
  • Green Radish (evenly shredded) for everlasting life
  • White Radish (evenly shredded) for prosperity in business and promotion at work
  • Peanut Bits (chopped) for wealth
  • Sesame Seeds for successful business
  • Pok Chui Crackers (Deep-fried flour crisps in the shape of golden) for more wealth
Happy Tossing!

Lo Hei!

Once all the ingredients have been beautifully arranged on a large plate, it’s time for the most exciting part of the tradition, the mixing and the tossing of the ingredients.
Equipped with their chopsticks, all gather around the table and listen closely to the waiter at the restaurant or the person in charge in the family as he adds each ingredient carefully and recites each specific prosperous saying.
if you would like to impress your friends, you may recite the sayings mentioned below in Mandarin characters or using their pinyin version. Just make sure you use the right intonation as it may change the meaning of your sentence.
When using the pinyin system remember to use the 4 main intonations of the Mandarin language: - (High tone - high and flat-), ˊ (Rising tone), ˇ (Dipping tone - short fall then rise-), ˋ (Falling tone).
 
This is how we do the Yu Sheng Lo Hei in Singapore in 13 steps:
  1. At the table: gōng xǐ fā cái 恭喜发财, Congratulations for your wealth! And wàn shì rú yì 萬事如意, May all your wishes be fulfilled!
  2. Fish: nián nián yǒu yú 年年有余, Abundance through the year!
  3. Lime or pomelo: dà jí dà lì 大吉大利, Good luck and smooth sailing!
  4. Pepper & Cinnamon Powder: zhāo cái jìn bǎo 招财进宝, Attract wealth and treasures!
  5. Plum sauce: tián tián mì mì 甜甜蜜蜜, sweetness throughout the year!
  6. Oil drizzled in a circle over the dish: yī běn wàn lì 一本万利, Make 10,000 times of profit with your capital! And cái yuán guǎng jìn 财源广进, May you have many sources of wealth!
  7. Carrots: hóng yùn dāng tóu 鸿运当头, Good luck is approaching!
  8. Shredded green radish: qīng chūn cháng zhù青春常住, Wishing you an everlasting life!
  9. Shredded white radish: fēng sheng shuǐ qǐ 风生水起, Progress at a fast pace! and bù bù gāo shēng 步步高升, Reaching higher level with each step!
  10. Chopped Peanut bits: jīn yín mǎn wū 金银满屋, May your household be filled with gold and silver
  11. Sesame seeds: shēng yì xīng lóng 生意兴隆, Prosperity for the business!
  12. Pok Chui Crackers: biàn dì huáng jīn 遍地黄金, May your floor be covered with gold!
  13. The ingredients are then mixed and pushed towards the centre to bring the good luck at the table. Then with their chopsticks, all the guests toss the salad high into the air an auspicious 7 times while shouting resounding Lo Hei 捞起 (meaning tossing up good fortune) and some more auspicious wishes.

The higher you toss, the greater will be your fortune. So don't worry if it gets a bit messy and join the fun Yu Sheng Lo Hei!

Where to eat?

Although the preparation is extremely quick and easy, you can also find the whole Yu Sheng platter in many grocerie stores in Singapore at a very reasonable price. Yet, the whole atmosphere of a local Chinese restaurant is very tempting. It is available in several variations and various price but you'll find the original version at the Lai Wah Restaurant on Bendemeer Road (Boon Keng MRT station), which was the world's 1st restaurant to serve Chinese New Year Yu-Sheng in 1964 and which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year!

We recently joined the annual Mass Reunion Dinner during the Chinese New Year celebrations, for which 1,000 underprivileged families and elderly from Chinatown were invited to join the Lunar new year festivities with a warm and healthy dinner. Watch this video and see how they enjoyed the Yu Sheng Lo Hei.

gōng xǐ fā cái!

Check our last recipe: My Guide Singapore Kitchen- Fish Head Curry