Writer Jo-ann Huang investigates a Lunar New Year tradition specific to Southeast Asia that has confounded her for over a decade At Chinese New Year, few dishes are as divisive as Yu Sheng. Do you revel in the ritual, tossing veggies as high as you can? Or do you have to be dragged kicking and screaming by your elders, rolling your eyes at how silly and superstitious it seems? Perhaps it’s less the ritual than the actual dish itself. While Chinese New Year favourites such as roast pork or pineapple tarts involve lots of preparation time – not to mention years of practice to refine – to me Yu Sheng is a glorified Asian salad with slivers of raw fish and squirts of plum sauce that is shoved upon us Chinese folks by enterprising restaurants looking to cash in on the festivities. My first experience with Yu Sheng was more than a decade ago. The fish wasn’t quite fresh, and I ended up with a bad bout of diarrhoea. That could explain my contempt towards it. Of course, the S$48 bill for a simple dish of vegetables and fish didn’t help. But one thing we can all agree on is that Yu Sheng has become an essential part of Chinese New Year reunion dinners, as friends and relatives participate in the “lo hei” experience, which literally translates as “tossing for luck” in Cantonese. In this case, it is the tossing of the Yu Sheng up in the air. Just as important is reciting lucky phrases in Mandarin while preparing Yu Sheng in order to usher in a year of good health and prosperity. After the dish has been neatly laid out, everyone proceeds to make a mess of shredded vegetables and fish slices. Thank goodness it happens just once a year. Despite my bias towards the dish, it has become a well-loved staple in Chinese New Year celebrations. To its fans, it’s a fun dish that brings us together – and yet another excuse to feast.
Yu Sheng’s roots (and a food fight)
While Yu Sheng was purportedly first eaten by the Cantonese, today it’s found only among the ethnic Chi