What’s Your Story 2
Yu Sheng (Lo Hei)
Huey Jiun Thum (HMM SHQ)
For ethnic Chinese in Singapore and Malaysia, the rambunctious festivities of the Chinese Lunar New Year will never be complete without the spirited tossing of the Yu Sheng, the boisterous shouts of prosperous wishes for the New Year ahead, and the messy table in the aftermath of the completed activity.
The tradition of tossing Yu Sheng during the Lunar New Year was said to have originated from Southern China, where most of Singapore and Malaysia’s Chinese immigrants came from. Back then, it was more of a raw fish salad dish, than the obligatory Chinese Lunar New Year activity that it is today.
The modern day version of the Yu Sheng was created by Loke Ching Fatt in Malaya back in the 1920s, as part of his efforts to amplify the festive atmosphere. His elaborate version comprised of approximately 30 ingredients, each playing a part in weaving together a dish that was much more than the salad that it was. The sweet, savoury dish was packed full of various colours, tastes and textures.
In just a few years, the reputation of Loke Ching Fatt’s yu sheng spread by word of mouth. Before long, foodies from all over Malaya would go to his restaurant during the Chinese New Year season to toss the renowned Yu Sheng.
It was only a matter of time before the hype got to Singapore. As said, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and flatter Mr Loke Ching Fatt was what the four chefs in Singapore set out to do. In 1964, Lai Wah Restaurant served its first Yu Sheng, and the rest is history.
Yu Sheng is now so common that it can be easily prepared at home. During the Lunar New Year season, supermarkets all over the island are stocked with pre-packed boxes of the ingredients required to prepare the yu sheng. The pre-packed ingredients are even available at convenience stores at petrol stations. The pre-packed ingredients include pickled ginger, five spice powder, crackers, plum sauce, oil, sesame seed and chopped peanuts.
Besides the dried ingredient provided for in the pre-packed box, other ingredients are also required in the mix. They are, and are not limited to: raw fish, white radish, carrots, cucumbers and pomelo. As with all homemade dishes, each family has its own version of their yu sheng. Some have abalone or top shell instead of raw fish, others include mandarin oranges or apples into the mix. Each family’s yu sheng has its own unique taste.
That said, however the yu sheng is prepared, what matters the most is who you toss it with. They say home is where the heart is, and it is when I hear the loud cries of “HUAT AH!”that I find that my heart is exactly where it belongs. Home.