Gong Hey Fat Choy 恭禧發財
Also spelt Yu Sheng, is a Chinese New Year dish, served traditionally on the seventh day of Chinese New Year or Ren Ri 人日 ("Everyman's Birthday"). It is a salad dish made of thin slices of raw fish with shredded vegetables and a variety of sauces and condiments, among other ingredients, mixed with tossing actions by diners. Yusheng literally means "raw fish" but since "fish (鱼)" is commonly conflated with its homophone "abundance (余)", Yúshēng (鱼生) is interpreted as a homophone for Yúshēng (余升) meaning an increase in abundance. Therefore, yusheng is considered a symbol of abundance, prosperity and vigor.
While versions of it are thought to have existed in China, the contemporary version is created and popularised in the 1960s amongst the ethnic Chinese community and its consumption has been associated with Chinese New Year festivities in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. In Malaysia and Singapore, government, community and business leaders often take the lead in serving the dish as part of official functions during the festive period or in private celebrity dinners.
Fishermen along the coast of Guangzhou traditionally celebrated Renri, the seventh day of the Chinese New Year, by feasting on their catches. The practice of eating raw fish in thinly sliced strips can be traced back to ancient China through the raw fish or meat dish known as kuai (膾, kuài). However the present form of yusheng is believed to have started in Chaozhou and Shantou as far back as the Southern Song Dynasty. In Malaya's colonial past, migrants imported this tradition; porridge stalls sold a raw fish dish which is believed to have originated in Jiangmen, Guangdong province that consisted of fish, turnip and carrot strips, which was served with condiments of oil, vinegar and sugar that were mixed in by customers.
The modern yusheng dish debut during Lunar New Year of 1964 in Singapore's Lai Wah Restaurant (Established in Sept. 1963). It was created by four master chefs namely: Than Mui Kai (Tham Yu Kai, co-head chef of Lai Wah Restaurant), Lau Yoke Pui (co-head chef of Lai Wah Restaurant), Hooi Kok Wai (Founder of Dragon-Phoenix Restaurant) and Sin Leong (Founder of Sin Leong Restaurant), as a symbol of prosperity and good health amongst the Chinese. All four Chefs were named as the "Four Heavenly Culinary Kings" of Singapore some 40 years ago for their culinary prowess and ingenuity
Arranged on a large serving plate, the colourful array of ingredients include raw fish with daikon (white radish), carrots, red pepper (capsicum), turnips, red pickled ginger, sun-dried oranges, daun limau nipis (key lime leaves), Chinese parsley, chilli, jellyfish, chopped peanuts, toasted sesame seeds, Chinese shrimp crackers (or fried dried shrimp), five spice powder and other ingredients, laced with a sauce using plum sauce, rice vinegar, kumquat paste and sesame oil, for a total of 27 ingredients. Originally, the dish used raw ikan parang or "mackerel, although in deference to the popular wishes of customers, Salmon was later offered as an alternative due to the growing popularity of Salmon.
Rituals and Meanings
Yusheng is deemed auspicious because of its homonymic quality - yu means "fish" but enunciated appropriately, it also means "abundance", while sheng literally means "raw" but enunciated appropriately, it means "life". Thus Yusheng implies "abundance of wealth and long life". In Cantonese, it is known as lo sheng with lo also meaning "tossing up good fortune". The tossing action is called lo hei, which means to "rise" (hei), again a reference to a thriving business and thus its popularity with businessmen during the New Year.
Yusheng is often served as part of a multi-dish dinner, usually as the appetizer due to its symbolism of "good luck" for the new year. Some would consume it on Renri, the seventh day of the Chinese New Year, although in practice it may be eaten on any convenient day during Chinese New Year (1st to 15th Day).
The base ingredients are first served. The leader amongst the diners or the restaurant server proceeds to add ingredients such as the fish, the crackers and the sauces while saying "auspicious wishes" (吉祥话 or Jíxiáng Huà) as each ingredient is added, typically related to the specific ingredient being added. For example, phrases such as Nian Nian You Yu (年年有余) are uttered as the fish is added, as the word Yu (余), which means "surplus" or "abundance", sounds the same as the Chinese word for fish (yu, 鱼).
All diners at the table then stand up and on cue, proceed to toss the shredded ingredients into the air with chopsticks while saying various "auspicious wishes" out loud, or simply "撈起, 撈起". It is believed that the height of the toss reflects the height of the diner's growth in fortunes, thus diners are expected to toss enthusiastically.
Step by Step
When putting the yusheng on the table offers New Year greetings.
恭喜发财 (Gong Xi Fa Cai) meaning “Congratulations for your wealth” 万事如意 (Wan Shi Ru Yi) meaning “May all your wishes be fulfilled”
The raw fish is added, symbolising abundance and excess through the year. 年年有余 (Nian Nian You Yu) meaning “Abundance through the year”, as the word "fish" in Mandarin also sounds like "Abundance".
The pomelo or lime is added to the fish, adding luck and auspicious value. 大吉大利 Da Ji Da Li meaning “Good luck and smooth sailing”
Pepper is then dashed over in the hope of attracting more money and valuables. 招财进宝 Zhao Cai Jin Bao meaning “Attract wealth and treasures”
Then oil is poured out, circling the ingredients and encouraging money to flow in from all directions. 一本万利 Yi Ben Wan Li meaning “Make 10,000 times of profit with your capital” 财源广进 Cai Yuan Guang Jin meaning “Numerous sources of wealth”
Carrots are added indicating blessings of good luck. 鸿运当头 Hong Yun Dang Tou meaning “Good luck is approaching”. Carrot (红萝卜) is used as the first character 鸿 also sound like the Chinese character for red.
Then the shredded green radish is placed symbolising eternal youth. 青春常驻 Qing Chun Chang Zhu meaning “Forever young”. Green radish is used as the first character 青 also sound like the Chinese character for green.
After which the shredded white radish is added - prosperity in business and promotion at work. 风生水起 Feng Sheng Shui Qi meaning “Progress at a fast pace” 步步高升 Bu Bu Gao Sheng meaning “Reaching higher level with each step”
The condiments are finally added.
First, peanut crumbs are dusted on the dish, symbolizing a household filled with gold and silver. 金银满屋 Jin Yin Man Wu meaning “Household filled with gold and silver”
Sesame seeds quickly follow symbolising a flourishing business. 生意兴隆 Sheng Yi Xing Long meaning “Prosperity for the business”
Deep-fried flour crisps in the shape of golden pillows is then added with wishes that literally the whole floor would be filled with gold. 满地黄金 Man Di Huang Jin meaning “Floor full of gold”
All toss the salad an auspicious 7 times with loud shouts of lo hei and other auspicious New Year wishes. Words: Lo hei which is Cantonese for “tossing luck”.
The ingredients mixed by pushing them toward the centre, an encouragement to push on the good luck of all at the table.