The Art of Yusheng
Yusheng was brought over by our forefathers around the 1920s and can be traced back to the region of Jiangmen in the Guangdong province. Since then, it has evolved to become a colourful and beloved dish that people enjoy every Lunar New Year—symbolic of union, luck and prosperity. The dish’s current form developed from its simple roots courtesy of Master Chefs Than Mui Kai, Lau Yoke Pui, Hooi Kok Wai and Sin Leong, collectively known as The Four Heavenly Kings of Cantonese Cuisine. There is also a Teochew variation that is equally flavourful and closer to the original which can be found at selected Teochew restaurants here.
The modern adaption of Yusheng consists of a delicate balance between the sauce and ingredients. Strips of fish are used as the main feature with a choice of either Wolf Herring or Salmon. Blended with an array of shredded vegetables and condiments, the preparation is then finished by pouring the rice vinegar and kumquat laced plum sauce in addition to sesame oil. The entire process is a 12-step ritual with each component having an auspicious meaning.
Step one begins with the customary “Gong Xi Fa Cai” which means “Congratulations on your wealth”.
Next, the Yusheng is served on a big plate and the fish (“yu” in Mandarin) goes in first. The auspicious words “Nian Nian You Yu” (a yearly abundance of fish) and “You Yu You Sheng” (having leftover fish) are reminiscent of the olden days when fish was considered a delicacy, often consumed during the New Year. These phrases signify having an excess of all the good things in life.
For good fortune and money, pomelo or lemon is added, with a sprinkling of pepper and cinnamon powder. This is accompanied by the wishes “Da Ji Da Li” (great luck and profits) and “Zhao Cai Jin Bao” (attraction of wealth and treasures), which are important to those seeking career advancements and company growth.
Throw in the melange of shredded carrots, green and white radishes mixed with the idioms “Hong Yun Dang Tou” (prosperity at your doorstep), “Qing Chun Chang Zhu” (eternal youth), “Feng Sheng Shui Qi” (fast-paced progress) and “Bu Bu Gao Sheng” (ascending with each step) for a smooth and progressive year.
Top these with finely chopped peanuts and sesame seeds to ensure a healthy bank balance by uttering “Jin Yin Man Wu” (a household filled with gold and silver) and “Sheng Yi Xing Long” (thriving and prosperous trade) for a flourishing business.
Circle the oil around the mixture and say “Yi Ben Wan Li” (little capital, large gains) or “Cai Yuan Guang Jin” (money befalls you) in order to yield maximum profits. This is followed by the drizzling of the sauce for harmonious and loving relationships with the phrase “Tian Tian Mi Mi” (honey sweetness).
Finally, pour the golden crackers and utter “Bian Di Huang Jin” (floor covered with gold) to ensure that you’re blessed with wealth and opulence.
Image credit: Summer Palace, Regent Singapore