Yu sheng- Chinese New Year Raw Fish Salad
Chinese New Year for me is the epitome of abundance and feasting. Since Honey and I are away from our families, we have always tried to recreate our very own Chinese New Year feasts with our friends in Australia. In fact, we have learnt a thing or two from our friends since our families are far from traditional. One dish that we cannot do without during Chinese New Year is yu sheng/ yee sang, which is a salad with raw fish and considered an auspicious dish specially eaten during Chinese New Year because it is a homophone for ‘increase in abundance’ and therefore symbolises prosperity when ushering in the new year. What we didn’t realise before coming to Australia though, is that yu sheng/ yee sang is a Singaporean/Malaysian Chinese tradition, and a relatively new one at that, being created by a Singaporean Chinese chef in 1964.
The key ingredient in yu sheng/ yu sang is of course, the raw fish, and a variety of shredded vegetables, pickles, nuts and seeds and crackers for crunch. All the ingredients are presented separately on a large platter. If you’re wondering what the red packets are doing on the platter, they contain five spice powder and sesame seeds, which are sprinkled over once all the guests are gathered.
Apparently there are auspicious sayings that correspond to each ingredient, that one is supposed to recite as you add each ingredient. But as I said, Honey and I have not been schooled in these complicated traditions so we didn’t do this, but out of curiosity I did some research and found this very interesting list here.
Raw fish: nian nian you yu, for abundance
Lime: da ji da li, for good luck
Five spice powder and pepper: wu fu lin men, for good fortune
Plum sauce: tian tian mi mi, for a honeyed year
White radish: wan shi ru yi, for success
Red chilli: zhao cai jin bao, for prosperity
Lettuce: he qi sheng cai, for harmony and wealth
Carrot: bu bu gao sheng, for eminence
Pickled red ginger: hong yun dang tou, for good luck
Oil: fu yun nian nian, for good fortune and luck
Peanuts: jin sha man tang, for prosperity
Crispy crackers: bian di huang jin, for prosperity
When tossing: Utter anything auspicious, including sheng yi xing long, for brisk business, and sheng ti jian kang, for good health
I think it would have been very hilarious exercise for us and our guests working out the Mandarin- well, there’s always next year!
Then comes the most exciting part- tossing the salad! Everyone puts their chopsticks into the salad and tosses it together. The action of mixing the yu sheng is called ‘lo hei’, and hei means ‘to rise’, again symbolising prosperity.
Apparently, the higher you toss the salad, the greater your prosperity for the year. We think it’s all a bit of fun, really! It is also tradition to have yu sheng on the 7th day of the new year because it is believed to be the day that human beings were created. Honey and I love the taste of yu sheng. After trying out different kinds of fish, we like to use Hiramasa kingfish best because of its light flavour that complements the gingery plum sauce in the salad. Another highlight for me is all the different textures that come together- the smoothness of the sashimi, the grated vegetables, and the crunch of the nuts and crackers. We like making our own yu sheng initially out of necessity, but now because we realise that it’s so much healthier than a lot of what’s available in restaurants- we’ve been put off by garishly coloured pickles. And we were also really surprised at how easy it is to DIY!
Happy Year of the Rabbit to everyone!
Yu sheng- Chinese New Year Raw Fish Salad
(serves 6 – 10 people)
600g hiramasa kingfish / salmon
200g white radish, shredded
200g carrot, shredded
200g green mango/ green papaya, shredded
50g spring onions, shredded
1 red chilli, shredded
75g pickled turnip, shredded
6 pickled leeks, shredded
200g pomelo wedges/ pink grapefruit, peeled and separate the sacs
4 kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded
20g young ginger, finely shredded
1 pair yao char kwai (dough fritters), sliced thinly and deep-fried until crispy
100g sesame crackers (or deep fried wanton skins work really well)
70g roasted peanuts/ pine nuts, pounded
300g plum sauce
1 tbsp apricot jam
3 tbsp lime juice
3 tbsp honey
1 tbsp sesame paste
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp salt or to taste
5g Chinese five spice powder, put into a red packet
50g toasted sesame seeds, put into a red packet
Stir the sauce ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to a low boil.
Cool completely before use.
Arrange the shredded ingredients attractively on a big, round serving platter.
To serve, pour the sauce over the yu sheng and sprinkle with five-spice powder and sesame seeds.
Note: I left out the kaffia lime leaves and chilli as I did not want them to over power the delicate flavour of the kingfish. I also left out the spring onions and leeks because our guests are sensitive to them.