Friday, February 12, 2010

All About Chinese New Year in Malaysia: Series 5 (The End)

Yu Sheng

It literally means "raw fish" in Mandarin is a must-have traditional dish during Chinese New Year. For those who are new to this dish, you may consider it as an Asian-style salad with various shredded vegetables and top with assorted spices, slices of raw fish (commonly used: salmon or mackerel) and sweet-and-sour plum sauce. Each ingredient is well thought of because there is a corresponding auspicious meaning behind it. I will explain it at the end of today's blog post.

Yu Sheng usually served as an appetizer and is consumed throughout the 15-day CNY celebration, especially on the seventh day of CNY which known as Ren Ri 人 日 (meaning everyone's birthday). I love this dish VERY much and I wish I could have it every day during CNY. To satisfy my cravings, my dad will usually get our family an order of Yu Sheng from restaurant for our family reunion dinner on CNY eve every year! Thanks daddy, I love you!

Below, you will learn more about the origin of
Yu Sheng.
(I found this on an article written by Bonny Tan via National Library Board Singapore.)

It is believed that Yusheng has its origins in Southern China. Legend has it that a young man and his girlfriend found themselves stranded by bad weather at a temple with nothing to eat but a carp they had caught. Chancing upon a bottle of vinegar, they added this to the stripped carp and found it quite appetizing.

Today's colorful version of
Yusheng and the practice of eating it on the seventh day of Chinese New Year appear 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 popularized 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.

The following rituals and meanings of Yu Sheng is also part of the article written by Bonny Tan years ago.

Yusheng is deemed auspicious because of its homonymic quality - yu means "fish" but enunciated appropriately, it also means "abundance", while sheng literally means "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 also meaning "tossing up good fortune". The tossing action is called lo hei, which means to "rise" (hei), again a reference to a thriving business and thus its popularity with businessmen during the New Year.

Steps to prepare and toss

Step 1: All at the table offer New Year greetings.
Gong Xi Fa Cai 恭喜发财 meaning "congratulations for your wealth" or Wan Shi Ru Yi 万事如意 meaning "may all your wishes be fulfilled".

Step 2: Fish, symbolizing abundance or excess through the year, is added.
Nian Nian You Yu 年年有余 and You Yu You Sheng.

Step 3:
The pomelo is added over the fish, adding both luck and auspicious value.
Da Ji Da Li 大吉大利
Pepper is then dashed over the ingredients in the hope of attracting more money and valuables.
Zhao Cai Jin Bao 招财进宝
Then oil is poured, circling the ingredients to increase all profits 10,000 times and to encourage money to flow in from all directions.
Yi Ben Wan Li 一本万利 and Cai Yuan Guang Jin 财源广进
Step 4:
Carrots are added to the fish, indicating blessings of good luck.
Hong Yun Dang Tou 鸿运当头
Then the shredded green radish is placed on the fish, symbolizing eternal youth.
Qing Chun Chang Zhu 青春常驻
Next, the shredded white radish is added for prosperity in business and promotion at work.
Feng Sheng Shui Qi 风声水起 and Bu Bu Gao Sheng 步步高升

Step 5:
The condiments are finally added. First, peanut crumbs are dusted on the dish, symbolizing a household filled with gold and silver. As an icon of longevity, peanuts also symbolize eternal youth.
Jin Yin Man Wu 金银满屋
Sesame seeds quickly follow symbolizing a flourishing business.
Sheng Yi Xin Long 生意兴隆
Deep fried flour crisps in the shape of golden pillows are then added with wishes that literally translate to mean the whole floor would be filled with gold.
Pian Di Huang Jin 遍地黄金
Step 6: (last step)
All toss the salad an auspicious seven times with loud shouts of
lo hei and other auspicious New Year wishes.
Lo hei which is Cantonese for "tossing luck".

The ingredients are mixed by pushing them toward the center, and encouragement to push on the good luck of all at the table.

As you are interested to try making your own version of Yu Sheng at home, here is a homemade recipe by Wiffy as featured at her Noob Cook Blog.

Yu Sheng Recipe

Ingredients: (Serves 2*)
*Note from Wiffy:
The ingredients are for two, but it can easily serve up to 4 since it is just an appetizer salad. Feel free to double up for 4, triple for 6, etc. The amount of ingredients, especially the grated vegetables, is just a rough guide. Feel free to grate as much vegetables to your liking. Some
Yu Sheng comes with a mountain pile of white radish, carrots and cucumbers.

(A) Main Cast - consists of 8 main ingredients (8 is an auspicious number for Chinese)
1 Carrot, skin peeled
1 White radish (daikon), skin peeled
1 Cucumber
2 Tablespoons Japanese red pickled ginger
1 Pomelo, peeled and sacs separated, about 50g
1 Packet of Pok Chui crackers (can be substituted with fried wanton wrap)
Red and green yam strips (made with 1 yam, red and green food coloring, and vegetable oil for deep frying)

(B) Supporting Cast
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1 Tablespoon roasted peanuts, chopped finely (or crushed using mortar and pestle)
1 Teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1 Teaspoon cinnamon powder
A small dash of Chinese white ground pepper
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

(C) Sauce
2.5 Tablespoons Chinese plum sauce
1 Teaspoon sesame oil
1 Tablespoon of hot water to achieve the consistency of sauce to your liking

(D) Raw fish
Salmon sashimi slices (traditionally raw mackerel used) and/or abalone slices

(E) Tools
- A special vegetable peeler with "teeth" or julienne slicer or mandoline for shredding vegetables quickly and finely to long thin strips.
- A round plate for assembling the main ingredients as roundness symbolizes fullness.


(A) Main Cast
1. Pat dry carrot, white radish and cucumber after washing. Using a special vegetable peeler slicing each vegetable into long thin strips.
2. To prepare yam (see step-by-step photo below). Slice off the yam skin and then using peeler slicing yam into long thin strips. Divide yam into two equal portions in two separate bowls. Using a short straw, pick up a few drops of red food coloring and dye one bowl of yam red. Use another straw, dye the other bowl of yam green. Leave them to dry for a while. Heat up some vegetable oil in a wok, when the oil is hot enough turn it down to medium, add red yam first and deep fry for about 3 minutes. Remove and drain on a plate. Repeat for green yam. It is important that the oil is hot enough but not too hot or else the yam will become too crispy. Set them aside.
3. Lastly, arrange all the ingredients on a round plate.

(B) Supporting Cast
1. Toast sesame seeds, heat up a dry pan or wok, and then add sesame seeds. Use a spatula to stir the sesame seeds evenly and toast till sesame seeds are in nice golden brown.
2. Arrange the ingredients in a separate shallow dishes.

(C) Sauce and Raw Fish
1. To prepare the sauce, just add everything in a small bowl and mix till evenly dissolved.
2. Arrange the raw fish on a separate plate. If using mackerel, you may want to marinade the fish slices with some ginger juice because some people find it more "fishy" than salmon.

TA-DA...the end result - Homemade
Yu Sheng

For tossing
Yu Sheng, you may follow the steps and their corresponding rituals as mentioned on Bonny Tan's article above.

Learning the origin and meaning behind Yu Sheng is interesting and made me appreciate the dish more. I hope it goes the same to you too. Happy making your own version of Yu Sheng at home or go out and have one at the restaurant this coming Chinese New Year (Year of Tiger)!

Yours Moment, hereby, wishing all her blog readers a prosperous Chinese New Year and a sweet Valentine's Day. (Both celebrations fall on the same day this year, coincidentally ^.*)

Enjoy with your family, friends, and valentine. See you next week!


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