Your Ultimate Guide to What Yu Sheng is, How to Prepare it, and all the Phrases you need to know for a Prosperous Salad Toss!
Gong Xi Fa Cai! 恭喜发财, dear readers!
As the Year of the Dragon dawns, celebrations unfold across Singapore for Lunar New Year 2024. Strings of red lanterns adorn the streets, families gather over steamboat and bak kwa. When the dazzling decorations appear and families gather to welcome the Lunar New Year, one dish colorfully steals the spotlight. I’m talking about none other than Yu Sheng (鱼生) – or Lo Hei (捞起) as it’s affectionately called in Cantonese. This vibrant raw fish salad is a quintessential part of the festivities across Singapore and Malaysia.
But Lo Hei is more than just a delicious mess of ingredients. For centuries, its symbolic components and playful ritual have signified hope for an abundant new year.
Come along as I trace the fascinating history of this prosperity salad! Let’s navigate the traditions woven into every step of Lo Hei and discover why it remains an integral part of Lunar New Year feasting today.
I promise you’ll look at this dish with new appreciation (and appetite) by the end. Maybe you’ll even adopt some of these meaningful practices for your own Yu Sheng tossing this season!
Now, let’s begin our auspicious adventure...
The Origins of Yu Sheng (a.k.a Lo Hei)
While Lo Hei is now integral to celebrating Chinese New Year in Singapore and Malaysia this colorful salad originated much more humbly in China.
In the 1940s, a chef sliced up raw fish and mixed it with simple shredded vegetables to serve to fishermen along the Yangtze River. His thoughtful gesture towards the hardworking fishermen evolved into a salad called "Lucky Raw Fish".
It was only when Chinese immigrants brought the dish to Malaysia and Singapore that it transformed into the elaborate ritual and symbol of abundance we know as Yu Sheng or Lo Hei today.
Clever Cantonese wordplay has even endowed the name with prosperity-related meanings - "raw fish (yu sheng)" sounds similar to Cantonese phrases for "abundance (yú shèng)" and "leftover (yú shēng)". Tossing it up (lo hei) represents "ascension (lò hēi)".
So a humble salad became an integral part of Lunar New Year symbolism!
Today, Yu Sheng is a vibrant medley of colorful vegetables, fruit slices, sauces and crackers. Far from random, each ingredient deeply reflects a Lunar New Year wish or traditional Chinese value.
The base typically includes the trio of shredded white radish, green radish and carrot. Their varying hues represent the diversity of life and potential for growth in the coming year.
Crisp slices of yellow pomelo fruit signify smooth journeys and prosperity. Tart lime juice adds a dash of good fortune. Ginger and onion provide a spicy vitality, while peanuts shower an abundance of wealth.
The key protein, raw fish, embodies surplus and great fortune year-round. In Singapore, premium salmon is now commonly used.
Interestingly, the flour crackers and plum sauce mixed in are thought to have roots in Japanese cuisine. But they have now become signature Lo Hei tastes. The sweet plum sauce represents a sweet life ahead.
Every garnish lends the salad symbolic meaning - as well as vibrant colors and zesty flavors to whet our appetites!
Now comes the best part...the energetic ritual of tossing all these well-wishes sky high!
The Components of Yu Sheng / Lo Hei
Yu Sheng is not merely a salad; it's a manifestation of unity, positivity, and a belief in an abundant future. The dish comprises a delightful medley of ingredients, each bearing its unique symbolism:
Shredded white and green radish and carrots represent the diversity of life and the potential for growth and expansion in the coming year.
Ginger and onion slices add zest and vitality to the dish.
Pomelo provides a burst of citrus freshness, symbolizing a smooth and fortunate journey.
Crushed peanuts and pepper symbolize a household filled with gold and silver treasures.
Raw fish slices, often salmon, represent surplus and abundance.
Additional ingredients can include wolf herring or abalone for added luxury.
In Singapore, the Lo Hei ingredients also include plum sauce, sesame oil, and kumquat sauce, enhancing the flavors and significance of the dish.
The Traditional Order of Adding Ingredients
Preparing and tossing Yu Sheng is a graceful ritual - each step symbolizing good fortune to come.
First, set an empty platter prominently on the table. This signifies welcoming all the blessings of the new year. Greet it by saying 恭喜发财 "*Gong Xi Fa Cai*" (wishing prosperity) and 万事如意 "*Wan Shi Ru Yi*" (may all your wishes come true).
Then come the good luck ingredients, added in thoughtful order with an auspicious phrase to mark each one:
Carrots, green radish and white radish for diversity and growth:
Carrots: 鸿运当头"*Hong Yun Dang Tou*" (good luck is approaching)
Green Radish: 青春常驻 "*Qīng Chūn Cháng Zhù*" (forever young and youthful)
步步高升 "*Bù Bù Gāo Shēng*" (progress and ascension with each step)
Raw fish for abundance all year: 年年有余"Nian Nian You Yu*" (abundance every year)
Pomelo and lime for prosperity and smooth journeys: 大吉大利 "Da Ji Da Li*" (great luck and prosperity)
Pepper to attract wealth: 招财进宝 “Zhao Cai Jin Bao*” (attracting wealth and treasures)
Peanuts for household gold and silver: 金银满屋 "Jin Yin Man Wu*" (home full of gold and silver)
Sesame seeds to prosper the business: 生意兴隆 “Sheng Yi Xing Long*” (business prosperity)
Circular drizzles of oil and plum sauce for profit and sweetness:
一本万利 “Yi Ben Wan Li*” (profit 10,000 times over),
财源广进 “*Cai Yuan Guang Jin*” (numerous sources of wealth), and
甜甜蜜蜜 "*Tian Tian Mi Mi*" (a sweet life always)
Deep-fried flour crisps for floors of gold: 黄金满地 “Huang Jin Man Di*” (floors full of gold)
Once every colorful component graces the platter, it’s time for the climatic toss! Use your chopsticks to toss the Yu Sheng salad as high as possible - the higher the better to lift your fortune up. Expect a joyous (and messy) abundance all around!
Tossing Towards Abundance
Yu Sheng's ingredients carry deep meaning, but the lively ritual of tossing is just as important. This conveys wishes for abundance to ascend to greater heights in the new year.
Once preparations are complete, all guests use chopsticks to enthusiastically toss the salad as high possible! The higher the ingredients fly, the greater fortunes and joy will come your way. It gets messy fast, but that symbolizes abundance overflowing.
As you toss Yu Sheng this season with loved ones, imagine all your dreams rising skywards! May all good wishes come true in the year ahead.
Celebrate Abundance this Lunar New Year with Yu Sheng/ Lo Hei Toss and let Laundry Club handle the mess!
After the exhilarating mess of Lo Hei, let Laundry Club handle the cleanup! As Singapore's premier laundry service and dry cleaning company, we make Lunar New Year prep easy. Our ozone wash technology penetrates deep to lift stains, while Germ Shield silver ion treatment eliminates 99.9% of bacteria - including auspicious Yu Sheng drips on your festive outfits!
Schedule a professional home laundry pickup and delivery through our app. We service all postal codes in Singapore, so you can leave the washing to us and spend more quality time with loved ones this season.
Now excuses me while I go rifle through the fridge - suddenly I'm craving Lo Hei for lunch!
新年快乐 (Xīn Nián Kuài Lè)! Happy Chinese New Year from Laundry Club!
May your laundry be light, and your spirits be high as we celebrate this special season