On the second day of the Lunar New Year, we had Yu Sheng / Lo Hei with friends. It was my third one of the New Year.
For those unfamilar, Lo Hei (Cantonese for 撈起 or 捞起) is …
a Teochew-style raw fish salad. It usually consists of strips of raw fish (most commonly salmon), mixed with shredded vegetables and a variety of sauces and condiments, among other ingredients. Yusheng literally means “raw fish” but since “fish (鱼)” is commonly conflated with its homophone“abundance (余)”, Yúshēng (鱼生) is interpreted as a homophone for Yúshēng (余升) meaning an increase in abundance. Therefore, yusheng is considered a symbol of abundance, prosperity and vigor.
While versions of it is thought to have existed in China, the contemporary version is created and popularised in Singapore in the 1960s amongst the ethnic Chinese community and its consumption has been associated with Chinese New Year festivities in Singapore as well as in neighbouringMalaysia. 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.
Yusheng is often served as part of a multi-dish dinner, usually as the appetizer due to its symbolism of “good luck” for the new year. Some would consume it on Renri, the seventh day of the Chinese New Year, although in practice it may be eaten on any convenient day.
The base ingredients are first served. The leader amongst the dinners or the restaurant server proceeds to add ingredients such as the fish, the crackers and the sauces while saying “auspicious wishes” (吉祥话 or Jíxiáng Huà) as each ingredient is added, typically related to the specific ingredient being added. For example, phrases such as Nian Nian You Yu (年年有余) are uttered as the fish is added, as the word Yu (余), which means “surplus” or “abudance”, sounds similar to the Chinese word for fish (yu, 鱼).
All dinners at the table than stand up and on cue, proceed to toss the shredded ingredients into the air with chopsticks while saying various “auspicious wishes” out loud. It is believed that the height of the toss reflects the height of the dinner’s growth in fortunes, thus dinners are expected to toss enthusiastically.
This was followed by some posing, some Lady Gaga imitations and some Karaoke.