Friday, 4 February 2011

Chinese New Year 2011 – Yu Sheng

Chinese New Year begins on 3rd February this year and 2011 is the Year of the Rabbit (or Hare). Celebrations can last from the new moon on the 3rd until the full moon on the 18th when the Lantern Festival is celebrated. My Singaporean friends celebrate the New Year with a dish called Yu Sheng for good luck, which is found on the menu of just about every Singapore Chinese restaurant over the Lunar New Year period. Traditionally it is served as an appetizer to raise 'good luck' for the new year and is usually eaten on Renri, the seventh day of Chinese New Year.

“Yu” literally translates as “fish" but it sounds the same as "abundance” and Sheng means "raw" but also sounds like "life". So Yu Sheng implies "abundance of wealth and long life". The dish itself is a lavish fish salad which includes fresh salmon, white radish, carrot, red pepper (capsicum), ginger, kaffir lime leaves, Chinese parsley, chopped peanuts, toasted sesame seeds, Chinese shrimp crackers or fried dried shrimp and five spice powder, with the dressing primarily made from plum sauce. The custom is to give good luck wishes as the dish is assembled and then all the diners at the table then stand up and on cue, proceed to toss the shredded ingredients into the air with chopsticks. It is believed that the height of the toss reflects the height of the diner's growth in fortunes.

It's thought that the dish originated as part of Teochew cuisine which comes from a region of China in the north easternmost area of the Guangdong province. Teochew cuisine is particularly well known for its seafood and vegetarian dishes. The modern Yu Sheng dish originated during Lunar New Year in 1964 in Singapore's Lai Wah Restaurant and was invented by master chef Than Mui Kai (Tham Yu Kai, co-head chef of Lai Wah restaurant) as a symbol of prosperity and good health amongst the Chinese. In Singapore, government, community and business leaders often take the lead in serving the dish as part of official functions during the festive period or in private celebrity dinners. Some have even suggested that it be named a national dish.

Yu Sheng

75g salmon fillet, thinly sliced – you can use smoked salmon
30g white fish fillet, thinly sliced – you can use lobster, prawns, monkfish or scallops
1 tbsp garlic oil (see below)
25 cm of root ginger, finely shredded
½ tsp white pepper
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
To make garlic oil you need 10 – 15 cloves of garlic and 1 cup of oil. Peel and slice the garlic finely. Heat the oil and deep fry the garlic until golden brown and crisp. Take care not to burn them or the flavour will be bitter. Drain and cool. This is a useful oil for seasoning dishes.
1 carrot
1 white radish – you can use western radishes
1 red pepper
½ sweet melon
handful spring onions


4 tbsp garlic oil
1 tsp sesame oil
6 tbsp blackcurrant syrup (optional)
3 tbsp plum sauce


4 tbsp fried peanuts, crushed
½ tbsp Chinese 5 Spice Powder
1 tbsp fried sesame seeds

Prepare the salad by cutting the vegetables into matchsticks (or shredding them) and place on a large plate for presentation at the dinner table. Mix the sauce ingredients and set aside. When ready to serve mix the fish with the garlic oil, ginger, pepper and lime juice. Pour the sauce over the top of the salad ingredients and sprinkle the garnish ingredients on top. The diners must all help mix the salad ingredients to ensure good luck!
As for a drink to accompany your Yu Sheng I would crack open the Champagne!


lostpastremembered said...

SUch an interesting dish! I would never have thought to see current syrup in Chinese food. The combination is really creative and I bet delicious! The salad would be healthy and tasty... I can't wait to try it!

Sue said...

Thanks Deana - I agree re the currant juice, it's a good idea :-) I have been thinking about making various "ketchups" eg plum, grape etc this year . . . we will have to see how the crops pan out late summer

Pam said...

That is a great mix of fish and very interesting with the history of it. It looks delicious. That would be a sight to see with everyone tossing the food in the air with their chopsticks! Sounds like "fun" to me! Thanks for another great history lesson!

Sue said...

Thanks Pam - I think it would lead to bedlamin my house if we all tossed the food in the air with the chopsticks!