Yu Sheng (鱼生)
Yu Sheng is a raw fish salad typically eaten on the seventh day of Chinese New Year. The name means ‘raw fish’ in Mandarin. This dish comprises thin slices of raw fish mixed with different seasonings and sauces.
The concept of eating raw fish as a dish originated from Guangdong province of China. The Cantonese and Teochew Chinese ate it on the seventh day of Chinese New Year to celebrate Ren Ri (人日). Chinese migrants then brought the dish to Singapore and Malaysia during the 19th century.
Modern Yu Sheng was created by four master chefs in Singapore during the 1960s. The chefs are Lau Yoke Pui, Tham Yui Kai, Sin Leong and Hooi Kok Wai, and together they are known as the “Four Heavenly Kings” in the Singapore restaurant scene. The recipe they designed included ingredients such as shredded white and green radish and carrots, ginger slices, onion slices, crushed peanuts, pomelo, pepper, essence of chicken, oil, salt, vinegar, and sugar. To enhance the taste, they introduced the practice of pre-mixing the sauce in order to ensure a balanced taste for each dish, since diners had to blend the sauce themselves in the past. This new way of eating Yu Sheng was not readily accepted until the 1970s when younger diners embraced it. From then on, the popularity of this recipe soared and spread overseas. Today, many restaurants serve Yu Sheng as an appetiser dish in their Chinese New Year set menu.
Seven Colour Yu Sheng (七彩鱼生) is the common form served in local restaurants during the Chinese New Year period. It is also known as Fa Cai Yu Sheng (发财鱼生) or Xin Nian Yu Sheng (新年鱼生). Custom in Singapore is to consume it during Ren Ri. The rituals of how to prepare and consume this dish evolved organically over the years. The ingredients are first presented separately on a large plate. A server then greets diners with auspicious blessings and wishes as she adds the seasonings. Diners then toss the mixed ingredients high in the air to symbolise rising prosperity.
The colourful condiments make Yu Sheng more festive, and the dish has a wide variety of ingredients with auspicious meanings, each symbolising different good wishes for the new year. The main ingredients include raw fish slices, shredded pickled vegetables, pomelo, candied citrus peel, chopped nuts, seasonings, plum sauce and hoisin sauce. Wolf herring was traditionally used for the fish slices but it is more common now to use salmon.
The raw fish is served first, followed by lime for luck, and pepper to attract value and money. Sesame oil is dribbled over the dish to represent the flow of wealth from every side. Next, come the carrots to bring blessing and luck. Green and white radishes represent youth and good fortune in business. Peanut crumbs, sesame seeds, and flour crisps invite prosperity and monetary wealth. After all the garnishes, crackers, and sauces are added, the ingredients are tossed while everyone stands up and pronounces more good wishes.