Updated: Mar 14
And no, we do not mean a coin to determine your destiny. All you need, is simply, a salad.
Tossing a salad takes on a whole level of meaning when Chinese New Year comes around each year.
Let's Lo Hei
During this time, families, and even friends, colleagues and businessmen gather round a table with a large dish containing a variety of colourful ingredients. They deftly grab their chopsticks and begin to enthusiastically toss their ´salad´ while yelling phrases that signify good fortune. From the outside, this is not going to make much sense to someone who does not know the tradition. What are these people doing, violently "playing" with their food and what is it with all the yelling?
This exciting gastronomical acrobatics is what the Chinese call "yusheng" or "lo hei" and it is loosely translated as a kind of "prosperity toss".
Together with the other quintessential Chinese New Year elements such as round, chubby mandarin oranges and fresh crisp dollar bills in exciting red packets, "yusheng" is a must-have element during Chinese New Year.
The "yusheng" toss is done amidst lots of cheering and laughter. The aim is really to toss the ingredients as high as you can. The higher it is, the more prosperity and good fortune you are welcoming into your life this year.
As children most of us went through the motions of tossing, or at least we tried to, once we mastered how to grasp chopsticks. And we knew it was part of tradition and something we just did and the pickier eaters among us would sample only certain colours from the dish and save room in the stomach for the rest of the delicious dishes coming up. That was really all we knew when it came to the ´yusheng´. We did not think very much about why we did it, and what it really meant.
The "yusheng" originated in China and was then brought to the surrounding Asian countries by Cantonese and Teochew migrants in the late 19th century. Now it is typical to find this practice in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong.
This salad is a dish typically eaten on the 7th day of the Chinese New Year. That is when we celebrate Ren Ri (the day when the gods created humans in Chinese mythology).
Over the years it has undergone a myriad of transformations, with people adding in their own ingredients and getting creative and innovative to spice up the ´yusheng´ tradition. The original ´yusheng´ was a rather humble salad with raw fish slices, some vegetables and a dash of seasoning, nothing more.
This provided a simple base for chefs to work on and many experimented with textures, colours and flavours. It is typical to find ´yusheng´ with seven coloured ingredients, which is what makes it so pretty and celebratory.
This colourful and vibrant salad is like no other, and each ingredient even carries its own unique significance. This is one heavyweight dish when it comes to symbolism.
Each of the ingredients in a "yusheng" dish is carefully chosen. Chefs would do that based on flavours that blend well or give an exciting contrast, but beyond pleasing the tastebuds, ingredients in "yusheng" are also royally appointed because of their symbolism. So there is nothing random here. No leftover bits of vegetables thrown in to recycle. Each ingredient has its unique, special place and very much respected.
Here are a few ingredients to get you started if you are planning to design your own "yusheng"
These are for good luck. Carrots have a lovely fresh and sweet flavour and crunchy to boot.
2. White Radish
If you are looking to upgrade your career or change career path, go ahead and prepare a big portion of white radish. They represent happy job opportunities.
3. Green Radish
If you feel age is catching up, have more of your green radish. It symbolises eternal youth.
4. Raw Fish
Typically salmon, wolf herring, grass carp. This is for abundance and prosperity. The sound of the word fish in Chinese is already similar to the word for surplus and abundance. 年年有余 (Nian Nian You Yu) - 余 (meaning surplus) sounds like 鱼 (fish). Add raw fish and you will have abundance throughout the year.
5. Sesame Seeds
For a flourishing, thriving business, stock up on sesame seeds. Add this to your ´yusheng´ and your business will be given quite a boost.
6. Crushed Peanuts
Those who are home proud would be having lots of this. It signifies filling the home with many valuable possessions. Probably not the favourite ingredient for minimalists.
7. Golden Crackers
Children love these bits. When given a royal place in a ´yusheng´ dish, these humble crackers take on a whole different significance. They symbolise wealth. So while the other crisps and chips sit on shelves and feel neglected, these crackers are highly valued during this time.
And no salad is whole without some seasoning. And yes, they too have their symbolism!
While the ingredient itself may not have a specific significance, the way you introduce this seasoning into the salad is important. Make sure you drizzle the oil in a circular motion and not just dump it into the salad. This is part of the beauty of gastronomy - it is not always about how delicious a food is or mindlessly consuming it. Pouring the oil in a circular motion signifies wealth coming in from all directions. Some may call it superstition. Or it can also be seen as a very respectful way to treat food. It is a little ritual that helps one to enjoy one´s food even more.
2. Plum Sauce
Tangy and sweet, what is there not to like about plum sauce? It gives the salad body and kick and symbolically it represents the strong connections among family and friends.
3. Lime or pomelo juice
The fish needs a bit of lime (you can also use pomelo to give it an exotic punch) to counter its fishy taste but more than that, lime represents smooth sailing through the year.
To usher in wealth, pepper can be generously sprinkled over the salad.
Here is a simple basic recipe you can use as a base to build up your own special "yusheng"
1. Pick some colourful ingredients.
Fish: raw salmon, smoked salmon, abalone, jellyfish
Vegetables: carrots, white and green radish, cucumber, yam, bell peppers, capsicums, purple cabbage, beets, onions, leeks, Japanese seaweed
Fruits: pomelo, papaya, grapefruit, mango
Crackers: fried wonton skin, wheat crackers
Nuts: crushed roasted peanuts, sesame seeds
Dressing: oil, plum sauce, sesame oil, five-spice powder, pepper
2. Prepare the dressing the day before by mixing plum sauce with sesame oil and water.
3. Peel and shred the vegetables and fruits. (Tip: A spriralizer works magic here.)
4. Prepare the crushed peanuts.
5. On the day of the "yusheng", prepare and slice the raw fish.
6. You can arrange the ingredients on a large dish and serve ready to toss, or you can place them in separate dishes and add them onto a large plate when you are ready to start the tossing.
Something to take note of. This is one dish not to be eaten quietly. Some say an auspicious phrase when adding each ingredient to the dish as they are building up the salad.
When tossing the salad, everyone gathered around the table has to shout auspicious sayings. The original sayings included:
年年有余 (Nian Nian You Yu) - abundance every year
大吉大利 (Da Ji Da Li) - huge wealth and prosperity
黄金满地 (Huang Jin Man Di) - floor full of gold
Most of these auspicious sayings consist of four Chinese characters and they are fun to shout out together. Have a go at some of these:
招财进宝 (Zhao Cai Jin Bao) - attract wealth and treasures
财源广进 (Cai Yuan Guang Jin) - many sources of wealth
鸿运当头 (Hong Yun Dang Tou) - good luck approaches
步步高升 (Bu Bu Gao Sheng) - reaching higher with every step
金银满屋 (Jin Yin Man Wu) - filling the house with gold and silver
生意兴隆 (Sheng Yi Xing Long) - prosperity for one´s business
So now are you ready for some happy tossing this Chinese New Year? How would you innovate and get creative with your "yusheng"?
Whatever auspicious sayings you are rehearsing to go with your "yusheng" we hope the Year of the Metal Ox will steadfastly bring you sturdy strength, health and wealth for 2021. Toss away and bring in the happy fortune!
And Happy Birthday to everyone on the 7th day of the Lunar New Year (Renri 人日) which is on 18th February 2021
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