Have you tossed up good fortune yet this Lunar New Year? Yúshēng (Mandarin) or yùhsāang (Cantonese) “raw fish” – where yu (“fish”) is homophonous with the term for “abundance”, and sheng (“raw”, “life” or “growth”) with “increase” – is a popular festive dish comprising julienne vegetables, raw fish slices and crackers, topped with plum sauce, five-spice powder and sesame oil, which symbolises abundance of wealth and long life.
Historically from coastal Guangzhou, and traditionally eaten on the seventh day of the new year in Singapore and Malaysia, it has evolved into an elaborate performance, where ingredients, each having an auspicious meaning due to its form or pronunciation, are tossed together accompanied by idiomatic good wishes – hence its other name lo hei (Cantonese “mix, rise”), alluding to tossing up prosperity. Interestingly, although the dish hails from southern China, the expressions associated with it are most popularly cited in Mandarin.
Ready? Follow the recipe and repeat the auspicious phrases for a successful start to the Lunar New Year:
1 Gather everyone around to say: gōngxǐ fācái (“congratulations on your wealth”).
2 Add fish: niánnián yǒuyú (“every year have fish”) means “abundance for the year”.
3 Add pomelo or squeeze lime: dàjí dàlì (“good luck, smooth sailing”). Citrus fruits symbolise fullness and wealth, through their shape, colour and name: one character for tangerine contains the radical ji meaning “luck”; in Cantonese “orange” (the fruit) and “gold” are both pronounced gām.
4 Sprinkle pepper, cinnamon and five-spice powder, as spices represent fortune: zhāocái jìnbǎo (“may you attract wealth and treasures”) and wǔfú línmén (“may the five blessings enter your door”).
5 Pour oil in a circular motion: yìben wànlì, cáiyuán guangjìn (“may profits increase 10,000 times, and money flow in from every conceivable direction”).
6 Pour plum sauce: tiántián mìmì, for sweet and harmonious relationships.
7 Add shredded carrots: hóngyùn dāngtóu (“good luck is approaching”) – hóng (“good luck”) sounds like the first character hóng (“red”) for carrot.
8 Add green radish: qīngchūnchángzhù (“eternal youth”) – the same qīng features in “green radish” and “green spring” for youth.
9 Add shredded white radish: fēngshēng shuiqi, bùbù gāosheng (“exponential growth like wind and waves, with every step reach higher levels”) – for increasing success in business and studies.
10 Sprinkle chopped peanuts: jīnyín manwū (“a house filled with gold and silver”); and sow sesame seeds: shēngyì xīnglóng, for “a flourishing business”.
11 Scatter deep-fried flour crisps: biàndì huángjīn (“cover the floor with gold”).
12 Toss the ingredients together seven times calling out “lo hei” and other auspicious wishes – the higher you toss, the greater will be your fortunes.
Wànshì rúyì – may all your wishes be fulfilled!