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13/12 Thursday 03:47AM

yu sang

text . Pauline Chan .

Every Lunar New Year, my family and I will gather round our round dinner table and stab our chopsticks into a large platter, pick up a mount of colourful, shredded components that make-up the Yu Sang and sprinkle them back onto the platter, scattering some on the table, chairs and wine glasses in the process. The 'tossing' of food is a necessary tradition during the partake of this salad of julienned vegetables, raw fish slices, an assortment of toppings and glistening sweet plum sauce.


Yu Sang literally means raw fish in Cantonese and in Mandarin, it is Yu Sheng 鱼生 which sounds like another Yu Sheng, 余升, which means increase in abundance. Chinese in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei like to eat this dish during this time of the year as it symbolises good fortune and abundance. Each ingredient that goes into the dish has an auspicious meaning to it and that means one is putting in a whole lot of lucky 'things' into our stomach.

It is a Chinese thing but yet it's not completely a Chinese thing. Ask the Chinese who hail from mainland China or Hong Kong and they will tell you that it's not their tradition to eat Yu Sang.  The origins of this dish was from Singapore when 4 local chefs got together and created it in 1964. Traditionally eaten on the seventh day of the month, Ren Ri, 人日 - which is 'People's Day' or 'Everybody's Birthday' - this dish is now eaten on any of the first 15 days of the month. These days, restaurants serve them at least a week before the New Year, so there's more opportunity to fill up on Yu Sang before they disappear from the menu for the rest of the year. However, if you can't wait that long, try making it yourself so you can have them all year long. We found a well-detailed recipe from the delightful site
NOOBCOOK which guides you through the process and explores the whole concept of eating Yu Sang as well.

Yu Sang is usually served as the first dish in a typical banquet of multi-dishes.  Traditionally ikan parang or mackerel is used as the raw fish, but now salmon and abalone are very popular alternatives. Green and red-coloured shredded radish and carrots add to the bright and cheerful look suitable for the festivities. The fish and vegetables are topped with crushed peanuts, sesame seeds, deep-fried pillow-shaped flour crisps, pickled ginger, pomelo, and seasoned with pepper, cinnamon and 5-spice powder.  The dish is completed with a generous portion of sweet plum sauce and cooking oil.

There is a little ritual in eating this dish.  When you place the dish on the table, you say, Gong Xi Fa Cai 恭喜发财 (congratulations, increase prosperity), Wan Shi Ru Yi 万事如意 (everything your heart desires come smoothly).  As you add the ingredients into the plate, say the auspicious greeting for each ingredient. When you dig in and toss the ingredients - a ceremony called 'Lo Hei' - confidently and loudly roar the words Bu Bu Kao Sheng 步步高升 meaning 'climb higher to greater success with every step', and any other auspicious phrases that you hope to manifest in your life. It’s believed that the higher you toss, the greater your fortunes!


Here is the corresponding greetings that go with the ingredients. (Source: Singapore Infopaedia)
 

pomelo: Da Ji Ta Li 大吉大利 - Lucky and Prosperous
pok chui crackers:  Pian Di Huang Jin 翩地黄金 - Floor covered with gold
Chinese 5-spice powder : Wu Fu Ling Men 五福临门 - Five prosperity approach the door
cinnamon powder: Cao Cai Jin Bao 招财进宝 - Beckon wealth, enter precious treasures
plum sauce: Tian Tian Mi Mi 甜甜蜜蜜 - Sweetness and harmony
crushed roasted peanuts: Jin Ying Man Wu 金银满屋 - Gold and silver fill the house
roasted sesame seeds: Shen Yi Xin Long 生意兴隆 - Successful and thriving business
olive oil: Duo Duo You Shui 多多油水 - Lots of wealth
white pepper powder: Cao Cai Jin Bao 招财进宝 - Beckon wealth, enter precious treasures
raw fish slices: Nian Nian You Yu 年年有余 - May there be abundance every year
abalone slices: Nian Nian Pao You Yu 年年包有余 - Guaranteed to have abundance every year

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