Tossing for Good Luck: The Lunar New Year Salad
During Lunar New Year, people celebrate by wearing brand new clothes, visiting family and friends, and having auspicious meals together. In Singapore and Malaysia, friends and families will mark the occasion by tossing together a large plate of Yu Sheng, a salad of raw fish, fruits and vegetables, to ensure a lucky, prosperous and healthy year for all.
Yu Sheng has its origins in southern China but became a unique tradition in Singapore and Malaysia. Legend has it that a man and his girlfriend were stranded in a temple due to bad weather and had nothing to eat but carp they had caught. Finding a bottle of vinegar at the temple, they added it to the raw carp and thought it was delicious. The legend turned into practice in which fishermen along the coast of Guangzhou started celebrating the seventh day of Lunar New Year by eating their catch. Migrants from that province brought the tradition over to colonial Malaya by mixing raw fish with carrots, vinegar and turnip. In 1964, the modern version of Yu Sheng was created by four Singaporean master chefs at a renowned Chinese restaurant. They named it Yu Sheng, with Yu meaning fish or abundance in Mandarin, and Sheng meaning raw, but when enunciated appropriately, it also means life. Together, Yu Sheng symbolizes “abundance of wealth and long life.” The tossing action is called lo hei in Cantonese, which means “tossing luck” or “rise again.”
Each ingredient in the salad represents a certain auspicious symbol.
- Fish – abundance
- Pomelo – luck
- Pepper – money
- Oil – excess of profits
- Carrots – blessings of good luck
- Radish – prosperity in business and promotion at work
- Peanut crumbs – gold and silver or eternal youth
- Sesame seeds – flourishing business
- Deep fried flour crisps – gold
- Noodles – Long life
When you add each ingredient to the plate, you are supposed to recite greetings of good luck and prosperity. When every ingredient is added to the plate, everyone will yell “lo hei” seven times, while tossing all the ingredients together (as high as possible) and eventually toward the center of the plate, to spread the luck around.
You can create your own version of Yu Sheng by substituting certain ingredients or adding some. Our version includes noodles which symbolizes long life in the Chinese culture. You can create a vegetarian version of the dish by omitting fish altogether. The main idea of the dish is to toss the ingredients together with your family and friends, and wish each other good luck and good health in the New Year. Check out our own recipe for Yu Sheng - Singaporean Lunar New Year salad.