Yu Sheng (CNY Raw Fish Salad)
This recipe was first posted on 4 Feb 2010, and re-posted for the Lunar New Year holiday season.
Note: The following post comes with a detailed recipe for making your own Yu Sheng, history and how to Lo Hei (prosperity toss).
“Yúshēng” (鱼生, aka “Yee Sang” & “Yu Sang”), literally means “raw fish” in Chinese but since it sounds like Yúshēng (余升) which means an increase in abundance, Chinese living in Singapore & Malaysia (especially businessmen and working people) love to eat this dish during the Chinese New Year (CNY) season as it is a symbol of abundance, prosperity and good fortune. For those unfamiliar with this dish, I will describe it as an Asian-style salad with various shredded vegetables and served with assorted toppings, a sweet plum sauce and slices of raw fish (usually salmon sashimi or mackerel). Each ingredient added is well thought of because there is a corresponding auspicious greeting with it.
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Eating Yu Sheng during CNY is a cultural activity for Chinese living in Singapore and Malaysia, but not so much in other Chinese-populated countries such as Hong Kong, where the practice is almost unheard of. This may be due to the origins of the dish, which was created by 4 master chefs in a Singapore restaurant kitchen way back in 1964. I’m proud to say that Yu Sheng is one of those few local foods born and popularized in Singapore.
Today, this dish is usually served as an appetizer to raise ‘good luck’ for the new year. It is consumed throughout the 15-day CNY celebrations, especially on the seventh day which is known as Ren Ri 人日 (commonly known as “every person’s birthday”). My family even consume it on CNY eve as part of the reunion dinner.
This year, as part of my CNY cooking, I decided to challenge myself and recreate this popular Singapore dish. Yu Sheng has always being charged a premium price when ordered at restaurants during the CNY festive season, but to me, it’s just some shredded vegetables and often, a few measly pieces of thinly sliced raw fish thrown in. If you buy a prepacked box from the supermarket, you have to grate your own vegetables and purchase your own fish too, so why not make it all on your own? After trying out/tweaking my recipe a few rounds, I realised that it is possible to re-create this dish at home, and with extra slices of salmon sashimi and perhaps some abalone too, since one already save a lot by diy-ing. Now you can enjoy the dish throughout the year and not just during CNY :)
I had a hard time searching for a complete recipe for this CNY dish, unlike pineapple tarts where so many people are making at home and there are tonnes of recipes online. I relied a lot on photos, memory of the taste and snippets from recipes here and there to recreate the dish. I think I “pass” on my third attempt. Hope my recipe will be helpful to those trying to make this dish this year.
- The ingredients stated are for two, but it can easily serve up to 4 since it’s just an appetizer salad. Feel free to double up for 4, triple for 6, etc
- The amount of ingredients, especially the grated vegetables, is just a rough guide. Feel free to grate as much vegetables to your liking. Some Yu Sheng comes with a mountain pile of daikon, carrots and cucumbers.
(A) Main Cast – 8 main ingredients
1) 1 carrot, skin peeled
2) 1 white radish (daikon), skin peeled
3) 1 cucumber
4) 2 tbsp Japanese red pickled ginger (In Singapore, I buy them at Sakuraya/Cold Storage Taka/Isetan Scotts Supermarket)
5) Pomelo (I use the Ipoh Tambun variety), peeled and sacs separated, about 50g
6) 1 packet of Pok Chui crackers (I use store bought ones from NTUC)
7 & 8 ) Red and green yam strips which is made with
- 1 yam, remove the skin (wear disposable gloves when handling yam)
- red and green food colouring (I use Bake King’s Cochineal/Cherry Red and Apple Green)
- vegetable oil for deep frying
(B) Supporting cast
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
- 1 tbsp roasted peanuts, chopped finely (or crushed using mortar and pestle)
- 1 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder
- 1 tsp cinnamon powder
- a small dash of Chinese white ground pepper
- 1 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil
Note: Serves 2, feel free to double the quantities for 4, triple for 6, and so on
- 2.5 tbsp Chinese plum sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- a tbsp of hot water to achieve the consistency of sauce to your liking (adjust according to the brand you use)
(D) Raw fish
- raw fish slices 生鱼, usually salmon sashimi slices (traditionally raw mackerel used) and/or
- abalone slices
- a special vegetable peeler with “teeth” or julienne slicer or mandoline for shredding vegetables quickly and finely to long thin strips
- a round plate for assembling the main ingredients as roundness symbolises fullness
Using a vegetable peeler with “teeth” to julienne the vegetables effortlessly (that’s not my hands btw, I’m the photographer :x)
(A) Main Cast – 8 main ingredients
1) Pat dry carrot, daikon and cucumber after washing. Using a special vegetable peeler with “teeth” or a julienne slicer or a mandoline, julienne (slicing to long thin strips) 50g of each vegetable.
2) To prepare the yam (see photo step-by-step below), wear disposable gloves as the yam will “bite” our skin. Slice off the yam skin and then using a special vegetable peeler with “teeth” or a julienne slicer or a mandoline, julienne (cutting to long thin strips) 100g of yam. Divide yam into two equal portions in two separate bowls. Using a short straw, pick up a few drops of red colouring and dye one bowl of yam red. Use another straw, dye the other bowl of yam green. Leave to dry for a while. Heat up some vegetable oil in a wok (enough to cover the ingredients; I use about 500 ml), when the oil is hot enough turn it down to medium, add the red yam first and deep fry for about 3 minutes. Remove and drain on a plate. Repeat for green yam. It is important that the oil is hot enough but not too hot or else the yam will become too crispy. Set aside.
3) Arrange all the ingredients on a round plate.
(B) Supporting cast
1) To toast sesame seeds, heat up a dry pan or wok, then add sesame seeds. Use a spatula to stir the sesame seeds evenly and toast till the sesame seeds is a nice golden brown. Do not take your eyes off during the toasting process as it only takes a few minutes, and the seeds get from golden to burnt really quickly.
2) Arrange the ingredients in separate shallow dishes.
(C) Sauce & Raw fish
1) To prepare the sauce, just add everything in a small bowl and mix till evenly dissolved.
2) Arrange the raw fish on a separate plate. If using mackerel, you may want to marinade the fish slices with some ginger juice because some people find it more “fishy” than salmon.
In a ceremony known as “lo hei” (Cantonese 撈起 or 捞起), families, friends and colleagues gather around the table.
1) Say 恭喜发财 and 万事如意 when putting down the Yu Sheng on the table.
2) Say the auspicious greeting for each ingredient as it is added to the plate.
Here is the corresponding CNY greeting of each ingredient:
- red items (carrot, red yam, red ginger): 鸿运当头
- green items (cucumber, green yam): 青春常驻
- white radish (daikon): 风生水起/步步高升
- pok chui crackers: 翩地黄金
- pomelo: 大吉大利
- cinnamon powder: 招财进宝
- Chinese 5-spice powder: 五福临门
- plum sauce: 甜甜蜜蜜
- crushed roasted peanuts: 金银满屋
- roasted sesame seeds: 生意兴隆
- olive oil: 多多油水
- white pepper powder: 招财进宝
- raw fish slices: 年年有余
- abalone slices: 年年包有余
3) When all the ingredients have been piled on the plate, then everyone, on cue, proceed to toss the shredded ingredients into the air with chopsticks while saying auspicious wishes (吉祥话 Jíxiáng Huà) out loud to mark the start of a prosperous new year. It’s believed that the higher you toss, the greater your fortunes!
- Replace raw ingredients with mock fish and/or mock abalone slices
Extra Sides (optional/not shown in photos)
- preserved jellyfish
- preserved papaya & melon strips
- lime slices and a bit of lime juice
- lobster sashimi slices
- red capsicum for red yam
- green capsicum for green yam
- deepfried wonton skin wrappers for pok chui crackers
- grapefruit for pomelo
References, sources & further reading
- Wiki: Yu Sheng
- NLB: What is the meaning behind the ingredients of “Yu Sheng”?
- RMIT article: Yu-Sheng Chinese Lunar New Year Dishes
- Foodie Passion: Yu Sheng ‘Toss Up Luck’ For Abundant Propsperity