鱼生 (Yu Sheng) – CNY Tradition
Every year in Singapore, one traditional dish you can’t seem to escape is the Yu Sheng (鱼生), which literally translates into Raw Fish. It’s actually mainly a salad (of sorts), topped with slices of raw fish. I remember there was one year, I actually had to eat this dish about 6 times! (No joke, Singaporeans HAVE to have this dish during the Lunar New Year period, or they will die).
Well, you might be thinking, what’s so special about a raw fish salad? The unique part is in the tossing – it’s tradition for all the people gathered around the table to each take up a pair of chopsticks, and toss the salad together! HAHA its really funny. And you have to shout lucky phrases or idioms while tossing the salad as high as you can, because the higher you toss, apparently the more luck you’ll enjoy in the new year. So typically, the whole table’s a mess after the tossing’s done, but its a great table icebreaker, hahaaa.
This is usually how tossing is done.
Strangely enough, it seems that the tradition of Yu Sheng is confined only to the Malay Archipelago; I’ve heard there is no such dish or tradition in China or Taiwan nor Hong Kong, only Malaysia and Singapore. And I’m not sure which country invented it – I’d like to think it’s Singapore, home of Rojak =)
Anyway, although many innovative and enterprising restaurants come up with newfangled recipes and variations of this dish, there remain some staple ingredients that are essential at creating this dish:
- Raw fish – Of course, as its name says, this salad must contain raw fish! The main reason for including this in the salad is to fulfill the Chinese idiom 年年有余(nian nian you yuu) which means to have plenty and excess year after year (a very desirable happening for us Chinese). The character 余 in the idiom is actually a homophone for fish (鱼), so conveniently, fish is included to represent excess. Interestingly, I have the impression that the dish must never be completely devoured; some must be left on the plate to represent this excess, but I don’t know how true this is (maybe it’s just me)
- Lime juice – This is usually extracted from a fresh lime on top of the raw fish, to give it a nice tang. If I’m not wrong, this ingredient relates to 青春美丽, perhaps because the lime is green and young and tight so connotes youth and beauty? HAHA a bit of a stretch there, I maybe wrong!
- Oil – I don’t know what exact sort of oil is used, but it helps to moisten the salad after it’s tossed. The rationale for oil is to satisfy the idiom 事事顺利, which translates to everything going smoothly. I guess with oil, everything is lubricated so things go down easier? Haha, there’s also a reason why bribery is sometimes called “greasing palms”.
- Sour plum sauce – Despite its name, this sauce is actually more sweet than sour. Thus, it represents 甜甜蜜蜜 – to be sweet and loving. Aww
- Cinnamon powder and pepper – These two powders are dusted on top of the salad, usually after the oil and sauce is poured. I’ve kinda forgotten what these ingredients represent, but there is an underpinning to their inclusion, I’m sure.
- Crackers – These unique crackers are hollow and shaped somewhat like gold ingots, so obviously represent wealth and fortune. Depending on what you like, they can represent 金玉满堂，财源滚滚来，遍地是黄金 etc. etc. Chinese do love their bling bling.