Yu Sheng - The Flying Salad at Chinese New Year

Posted by OmarTarakiNiodeFoundation
12 February 2013 | blogpost

While watching Lion Dancers performed during a Chinese New Year get together we noticed special platters placed on red-clothed tables. Those, our host explained, are Yu Sheng, Chinese mixed salad with sliced raw fish (yu), shredded raw (sheng) vegetables, sauces and condiments.

We eagerly tried some and learned that although Yu Sheng may not be as scrumptious as Dim-Sum or Peking Duck, it is essential in every Chinese new year celebration, mainly in South East Asia regions.

Consuming Yu Sheng is an anticipated ritual where a number of people encircle a plate of Yu Sheng, and using chopsticks toss the vegetables several times as high as possible and shout huat ah!! (prosperity) before eating them. Tossing the colorful food to the extreme is a symbol of luck, prosperity and health all year long.

The Yu Sheng Chronicle

As many sources discovered, Yu Sheng in a simpler form originated in Southern China. Migrants and traders introduced the food to communities in the Malay Peninsula.

Chinatownology  tells a story of how in the 1960s four master chefs in Singapore came up with a new way to present and to consume Yu Sheng.

A popular blog, I Eat. I Shoot. I Post documented the part of how the four gentlemen: Hooi Kok Wai Tham Mui Kai, Sin Leong, Lau Yoke Pui, named the Four Heavenly Kings of Cantonese Cuisine brain stormed on culinary ideas and shared recipes with each other.

The chefs eventually came up with modern day Yu Sheng when they added new ingredients and gave meanings to all the pieces that forms the now iconic dish. Yu-Sheng became a regular food in Chinese New Year celebration in Malaysia and Singapore. The dish popularity also spread to other Chinese communities around the world including Indonesia.

Channel News Asia broadcasted how modern Yu Sheng is now making its way to mainland China. Besides positive meanings and the colorful presentation, the process of consuming Yu Sheng is a formula for festive mood. A number of restaurants in China hope to introduce this unique cultural practice to the locals.

Yu Sheng Standardized

We would like to know whether there is any standard in preparing Yu Sheng and ran across two interesting articles. The first one is Toss your food for luck in the Year of the Snake by Amy A. Uy  and the second one is The Anatomy of Yu-Sheng by Ling Li.

At the Makati Shangri­La Hotel’s Shang Palace in the Philippines, Amy A. Uy noted, Yu Sheng also called Yee Sang has 27 ingredients. The main ingredient is fish as a symbol of richness throughout the year. Other ingredients include carrots for good luck, pomelo for wealth, sesame seeds for prosperity in business, lime for riches and safety, pepper and cinnamon for wishes fulfilled, peanuts for silver and gold, white radish for progress, green radish for youth, and crunchy crisps for a floor of gold. Plum sauce is offered for flavoring to attract treasures and oil to swirl the good fortune around and for smooth sailing all year.

Ling Li cited the tips from chef Lim Chong Kai of Yan Ting at St. Regis Singapore that “the most important element to a good Yu Sheng is the freshness of its ingredients”. In Li’s article, a graphic designer Savid Gan nicely illustrated The Anatomy of Yu Sheng with pictures of raw salmon slices for good fortune, pok chui crackers illustrates golden pillows, shredded green radish for eternal youth, pomelo represents luck and smooth journey, and carrots for blessing and good luck.

Yu Sheng for Everybody

Yu Sheng, usually served as an appetizer, is offered in al levels of establishments, from mom and pop café to fine dining restaurants.

There is also a selection of Yu Sheng for those with dietary preferences including vegetarian. Halal Yu Sheng, follows the dietary laws outlined in Al Quran, Muslim’s holy book.

To prepare Yu Sheng at home, Spring Toss, a brand of T.F Food Industries in Malaysia has an informative website. The company sells Yu Sheng packages and provides guides to mix and match ingredients. 

As the key to luscious Yu Sheng is the freshness of the ingredients, preparing the dish from scratch should be a pleasant challenge. SBS Food shared a simple way  to fix Yu Sheng while Noob Cook generously posted detailed steps with enticing photos to guide those who would like to prepare and eat Yu Sheng.

Chinese New Year, for the affluent, is rarely celebrated without lion dances, fireworks and lavish spread. The foods, Yu Sheng included, epitomize  the wish for sharing, caring and reaching prosperity.

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Images: CF Weng, Ze Fei/ 123RF, windmoon, Heinteh5/Shutterstock, Hungrygowhere, Omar Niode Foundation