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Yusheng: Singapore's CNY Delicacy
Symbol of good tidings for the New Year
A delicacy created in Singapore, Yusheng (or yee sang) is a must-have in Chinese New Year dining menu. Also known as Lo Hei, it is an Asian-style salad with various shredded vegetables and served with assorted toppings, a sweet plum sauce and strips of raw fish. The most important ingredient is the raw fish. Originally, raw mackerel was used but later salmon became a popular alternative. Each ingredient is chosen for its corresponding auspicious greeting with it.
Reason for popularity
The seasonal Yusheng Lo Hei is one of the most eagerly anticipated activities during the festivities. Yusheng is so popular because its Cantonese pronunciation sounds like “rising abundance” or prosperity. This dish is only available during the Chinese New Year festive period. It is usually served as the appetizer due to its symbolism of abundance, prosperity, and good fortune.
Lo Hei Yu sheng are usually available 2-3 weeks prior to the new year. Last day of sales is normally the 15th day of the new year.
Origins of the dish
Fishermen along the coast of Guangzhou (in China) traditionally celebrated Renri (Humankind’s Birthday), the 7th day of the Chinese New Year, by feasting on their catches. Chinese immigrants imported this tradition to Singapore. Porridge stalls in the early ‘60s sold a raw fish dish consisting of fish, turnip and carrot strips, which was served with condiments of oil, vinegar and sugar that were mixed in by customers.
Drawing inspiration from such hawker stalls and Western restaurants, four friends jointly turned the traditional Cantonese dish into a raw fish salad, the now popular Yusheng. The four were Mr Tham Yui Kai, Mr Sin Leong, Mr Lau Yoke Pui, and Mr Hooi Kok Wai. They later became the Four Heavenly Kings of the culinary world in ‘60s Singapore.
The symbolic meanings behind each of the more than 20 ingredients and the practice of “lo hei” were started by customers naturally over the years. Cantonese “lo” means stirring and “hei” means rising, thus the tradition of stirring and tossing the Yu sheng high while shouting auspicious greetings symbolizes good luck throughout the whole year.
Yusheng in its early years
Yu sheng was first introduced in 1964 Lunar New Year by Lai Wah Restaurant. At that time, customers had to experiment with the sauce and thus the food does not always end up nice and tasty. Lai Wah is also the first to implement the current practice of serving Yu sheng with the pre-mixed Yu sheng sauce in 1970s, to ensure optimal flavour and taste.
In recent years, this dish is also available in countries such as Australia, China, Japan, Manila, the United Kingdom and the United States.
May I wish everyone happy ‘lo’ing and a new year blessed with all good tidings with every toss!
© 2011 pinkytoky