Today’s colourful version of Yusheng and the practice of eating it on the seventh day of Chinese New Year appears to be unique to Malaysia and Singapore. Four local chefs are credited for developing Yusheng as we know it today. They named the dish “Lucky Raw Fish” and popularised it as a New Year delicacy. The chefs are Lau Yeok Pui and Tham Yui Kai, master chefs at Lai Wah Restaurant along Jalan Besar, and their good friends Sin Leong and Hooi Kok Wai. They had previously been colleagues at the Cathay Restaurant at Cathay Building.
Arranged on a large serving plate, the colourful array of ingredients include raw fish which is traditionally ikan parang 西刀魚 or “mackerel”, shredded green and white radish drained of liquid, shredded carrots adding a bright orange tinge to the dish, pickled ginger, crushed nuts, and pomelo. The ingredients are topped with various condiments including deep-fried flour crisps, crushed peanuts, sesame seeds, cinnamon, pepper and other spices. All at the table would then jointly toss the salad with a generous portion of plum sauce and cooking oil to add sweetness and taste.
Rituals and Meanings
Yusheng plays on the homonyms where “yu” 魚 means “fish” but enunciated appropriately, it also means 馀 “abundance”; and “sheng” 生 means literally “raw” but enunciated appropriately, it means “life”. Thus Yusheng implies “abundance of wealth and long life”. In Cantonese it is known as “lo sheng” with “lo” 捞 also meaning “tossing up good fortune”. The tossing action is called “Lo Hei”, which means to “rise” (起 “hei”), again a reference to a thriving business and thus its popularity with businessmen during the New Year.
Step 1: All at the table offer New Year greetings.
Words: 恭喜发财 “Gong Xi Fa Cai” meaning “Congratulations for your wealth” or 万事如意 “Wan shi ru yi” meaning “May all your wishes be fulfilled”.
Step 2: Fish, symbolizing abundance or excess through the year, is added.
Words: Nian nian you yu 年年有馀 and You yu you sheng.
Step 3: The pomelo is added over the fish, adding both luck and auspicious value.
Words: 大吉大利 Da ji da li.
Step 4: Pepper & Cinnamon Powder is then dashed over the ingredients in the hope of attracting more money and valuables.
Words: 招财进宝 Zhao cai jin bao.
Step 5: Then oil is poured out, circling the ingredients to increase all profits 10,000 times and encouraging money to flow in from all directions
Words: Yi ben wan li and 财原广进 Cai yuan guang jin.
Step 6: Carrots are added to the fish indicating blessings of good luck.
Words: Hong yun dang tou.
Step 7: Then the shredded green radish is placed on the fish symbolizing eternal youth.
Words: Qing chun chang zhu.
Step 8: After which the shredded white radish is added – prosperity in business and promotion at work.
Words: Feng sheng shui qi and 步步高升 Bu bu gao sheng.
Step 9: Chopped Peanut bits are dusted on the dish symbolizing a household filled with gold and silver. As an icon of longevity, peanuts also symbolize eternal youth.
Words: 金银满屋 Jin yin man wu.
Step 10: Sesame seeds quickly follow symbolising a flourishing business.
Words: 生意兴隆 Sheng yi xing long.
Step 11: Deep-fried flour crisps in the shape of golden pillows is then added with wishes that literally the whole floor would be filled with gold.
Words: 遍地黄金 Bian di huang jin.
Step 12: All toss the salad an auspicious 7 times with loud shouts of “lo hei” 捞起 and other auspicious New Year wishes.
Words: Lo hei 捞起 which is Cantonese for “tossing luck”.
The ingredients are mixed by pushing them toward the center, an encouragement to push on the good luck of all at the table. If you can’t finish the salad, don’t worry, as usually a small amount is left behind to signify abundance.