Thursday, February 10, 2011

Yu Sheng - Good Luck Food for Chinese New Year

Yu Sheng (Fish Salad) for Chinese New Year

Before you double check to see what blog you landed on - Yes, it's me talking about Chinese food. This is Yu Sheng - a special fish salad with many colorful mostly raw ingredients that is served during the Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore. It's not just any salad, it comes with a whole tradition of fun that includes everyone tossing the salad into the air and yelling Lo Hei (Mix it Up) for good luck. Throughout China, lucky foods are served all during the two weeks of the Chinese New Year celebration. The Chinese use words that sound alike, but have different meanings (homonyms) as symbols for the dishes and ingredients they use to express their wishes for good luck, long life, abundant living, happiness and fortune. For example, the word for fish also sounds like the word for prosperity. Their food serves as an offering to bring ancestors and family members closer and in hopes of bonding worlds past with worlds in the present. Many of the dishes are named with words that include blessings and wishes for a good life. While setting up Yu Sheng there is a specialized shout for each ingredient as it's presented that is also symbolic of their blessings.

I am always trying to expand not only my own palate and cooking experiences, but also to bring you along on the adventure. This past week marked the beginning of the Chinese New Year. My "Let's Lunch" pals (see us each month on twitter using #LetsLunch for searching) are posting LUCKY FOODS today to launch the Year of The Rabbit. I chose Yu Sheng and made a rabbit from mashed yams.

How fun is this? You get to shout at the table, throw your food and eat healthy all at the same time!You should have seen my husband, son and friends when I encouraged them to literally throw the food into the air because the higher it goes, the more abundant and long wealthy, healthy life you will have, according to teachings.
I've had a blast reading and listening to stories and traditions from this area of the world. I'm also very excited that one of our founding virtual lunch pals, Cheryl Tan, has a new book out this week, A Tiger In The Kitchen- A Memoir of Food and Family. Cheryl spent a year in her homeland with family members teaching and telling her stories and recipes from her heritage. I hope my rendition of YuSheng is respectful of the tradition, and introduces it to others in a fun way.
Many of the foods I used in my Yu Sheng are supposed to be symbols of good luck:
Pomelo is the most ancient of grapefruits and it's huge, and sweeter than other types. It's symbolic of prosperity because the word for pomelo in Chinese sounds like "to have".

Tangerines are good luck because the Chinese word sounds like luck and wealth.

Noodles are symbolic of long life and the raw salmon is a symbol of new beginnings.Carrots are like gold.The mushrooms are a symbol of good health and long life in Chinese art.
The Rabbit - a symbol of mercy and elegance.I gathered all my ingredients together, one by one, including pickled red ginger from the Chinese market, and Daikon that I shredded the same as the carrots and cucumbers on a mandoline.
For many years, all over China, small red envelopes are given out on many occasions to children, friends and family members. Often the red envelopes are filled with money as a symbol of contributing and beginning ones abundant wealth. For this Yu Sheng, I filled the envelopes with chopped peanuts and black sesame seeds (of course, another good luck food) for each person to open and sprinkle on their salads once we had plated them for eating.I used the rind from the Pommelo, which is very thick, to make candied citrus peels.
A Yu Sheng often has little won ton crackers, but I used Shrimp Chips from the Chinese Market to add a nice crunch.Because most of the ingredients are raw, the only recipe I created was the Pomelo Honey Vinaigrette we sprinkled on the salad before each of us ate two helpings. It's salad, so why not and besides - just more good luck for us, right?

RECIPE: Pomelo Honey Vinaigrette

Juice from one Pomelo Grapefruit
1 tsp. honey
3 tsp. rice vinegar
1/4 cup sesame oil

In a small bowl, whisk together the grapefruit juice, honey, vinegar and a pinch of salt and pepper. Gradually add the oil in a slow stream and whisk vigorously until a thicker dressing is achieved. Add more oil if needed or desired for taste. Can be refrigerated for a couple days.

FOR MANY MORE LUCKY FOODS: visit these fun and talented Let's Lunch pals:

A Tiger In The Kitchen
Hot Curries and Cold Beer
Free Range Cookies
Can It You Nit


Mai said...

Yum! This looks like it was really fun to make. Love that you incorporated the red envelopes into the meal (though I usually like them stuffed with cash.)

ATigerInTheKitchen said...

Oh my word, I am SO impressed!! This is a tough dish to put together -- but very very very lucky! Congrats and best wishes for a prosperous year to you! xx

Linda said...

So beautiful, but 2011 is the Year of the Cookie. Oh well. I like bunnies, too.

Jun said...

Had this on the Sa Cap meh. Yours look so beautiful, well done!!!

Rashda Khan said...

Ooh, I wish I'd been at the party! Your salad features some of my favorite foods and loved all the tossing...and the bunny! Love the bunny!

Danielle said...

Cathy, I'm speechless. Back home, no one I know has *ever* tried making this from scratch, we always purchase the pre-made packs from the grocery store, simply because of the amount of prep involved. Kudos to you for doing it! And the yam rabbit? Too cute! :)