My glorious Citizens! Chinese New Year is nearly upon us, so please allow the Emperor of Empathy – YOUR TFD! – to wish you not the usual heartfelt 恭喜發財 (gung hei fat choy) or Happy New Year, but instead 身體健康 (san tai gin hong) – Good Health! Given our continued involvement in the COVID-19 pandemic, this seems a more apropos, sanguine and germane greeting for this particular Chinese New Year of the Metal Ox! Now – prepare yourselves body, mind and soul as the Sinological Scholar who ALONE REIGNS as TFD! – shall be dropping some serious knowledge on you, so buckle up! 😀
Chinese New Year (generally referred to as Lunar New Year globally) is the Chinese festival that celebrates the beginning of a new year based on the traditional Chinese Lunar calendar. China officially adopted the Gregorian calendar, used by the West, in 1912. After this, public celebrations of Chinese New Year waned or were even forbidden. In the late 20th century, however, the holiday was re-introduced to great acclaim as the ‘Spring Festival’.
As noted on chinesezodiac.org:
The Chinese New Year will start on February 12th, and it will last until January 31st of 2022. The Ox is the second out of the twelve zodiac signs: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. The Year of the Metal Ox comes right after the Year of the Metal Rat (2020) and before the Year of the Water Tiger (2022)!
The years of the Ox in the Chinese Horoscope are: 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, and 2021. This year is going to be lucky and also perfect to focus on relationships, whether we are talking about friendships or love. In the Chinese Zodiac, the Ox is very hardworking and methodical. 2021 is going to be a year when work will get rewarded, and those zodiac signs who are lucky in terms of money this year will be the ones that will make a considerable effort.
The Yin energy, specific to the Chinese zodiac sign of Ox, will be quite poignant. This is going to be a year when we will fully feel the weight of our responsibilities, a year when it is necessary to double our efforts to accomplish anything at all. The Yin energy, specific to the Chinese zodiac sign of Ox, will be quite poignant.
This is going to be a year when we will fully feel the weight of our responsibilities, a year when it is necessary to double our efforts to accomplish anything at all. Since this is a Metal year, for the second successive year, the color of 2021 is going to be white.
Besides white, we have the lucky colors of the Ox: yellow and green, colors that, in Feng Shui, attract prosperity and success. To increase your luck, wear metal accessories. This year, no explosive or catastrophic events will occur, so it is a favorable year for economic recovery or consolidation, a year of long-term investments (especially for creating a reserve stock for the coming unproductive years).
The Metal Ox year is also great for making order in the family life. After all, if the family life is peaceful, everything gets solved! Thus, 2021 is a year when all the problems get solved with discipline. A lot of discipline! Obviously, with an extra effort from us in organizing our time.
Metal is yin (cold) in character, its motion is inwards and its energy is contracting. It is associated with the autumn, the west, old age, the planet Venus, the color white, dry weather, and the White Tiger (Bai Hu) in Four Symbols. The archetypal metals are silver and gold. In Chinese Taoist thought, Metal attributes are considered to be firmness, rigidity, persistence, strength, and determination.
Chinese New Year is associated with innumerable myths and customs. The festival was traditionally a time to honor deities as well as ancestors. Within China, regional customs and traditions concerning the celebration of the New Year vary widely, and the evening preceding Chinese New Year’s Day is frequently regarded as an occasion for Chinese families to gather for the annual reunion dinner.
It is also traditional for every family to thoroughly clean their house, in order to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for incoming good luck. Another custom is the decoration of windows and doors with red paper-cuts and couplets. Popular themes among these paper-cuts and couplets include that of good fortune or happiness, wealth, and longevity. Other activities include lighting firecrackers and giving money in red paper envelopes.
A reunion dinner (nián yè fàn) is traditionally held on New Year’s Eve, during which family members gather for a celebration. The venue will usually be in or near the home of the most senior member of the family. The New Year’s Eve dinner is very large and sumptuous and traditionally includes dishes of meat (namely, pork and chicken) and fish. Most reunion dinners also feature a communal hot pot as it is believed to signify the coming together of the family members for the meal.
Most reunion dinners (particularly in the Southern regions) also prominently feature specialty meats (e.g. wax-cured meats like duck and Chinese sausage) and seafood (e.g. lobster and abalone) that are usually reserved for this and other special occasions during the remainder of the year.
In most areas, fish (鱼; 魚; yú) is included, but not eaten completely (and the remainder is stored overnight), as the Chinese phrase “may there be surpluses every year” (年年有余; 年年有餘; niánnián yǒu yú) sounds the same as “let there be fish every year.” Eight individual dishes are served to reflect the belief of good fortune associated with the number. If in the previous year a death was experienced in the family, seven dishes are served.
Other traditional foods consist of noodles, fruits, dumplings, spring rolls, and Tangyuan which are also known as sweet rice balls. Each dish served during Chinese New Year represents something special. For example, the noodles used to make longevity noodles are usually very thin, very long wheat noodles. These noodles are much longer than normal and are sometimes fried and served on a plate, or boiled and served in a bowl with its broth. Expectedly, the noodles symbolize the wish for a long life and are NEVER cut, as this implies cutting life short.
The fruits that are typically enjoyed on New Year would be oranges, tangerines, and pomelos as they are round and ‘golden’ color symbolizing fullness and wealth. Their lucky sound when spoken also brings good luck and fortune.
The Chinese pronunciation for orange is 橙 (chéng /chnng/), which sounds the same as the Chinese for ‘success’ (成). One of the ways to spell tangerine(桔 jú /jyoo/) contains the Chinese character for luck (吉 jí /jee/). Pomelo is believed to bring constant prosperity. Pomelo in Chinese (柚 yòu /yo/) sounds similar to ‘to have’ (有 yǒu), disregarding its tone, however it sounds exactly like ‘again’ (又 yòu). Dumplings and spring rolls symbolize wealth, whereas sweet rice balls symbolize family togetherness. Red packets for the immediate family are sometimes distributed during the reunion dinner. These packets contain money in an amount that reflects good luck and honorability.
Now that you have a far firmer grasp of the symbolic foods around Chinese New Year in China – let me share today’s recipe history, which is unique to Southeast Asia!
Yusheng, yee sang or yuu sahng (Chinese: 魚生; pinyin: yúshēng; Jyutping: jyu4saang1), or Prosperity Toss, also known as lo sahng (Cantonese for 撈生 or 捞生) is a Cantonese-style raw fish salad. It usually consists of strips of raw fish (salmon has become very popular), mixed with shredded vegetables and a variety of sauces and condiments, among other ingredients. Yusheng literally means “raw fish” but since “fish (魚)” is commonly conflated with its homophone “abundance (余)”, Yúshēng (魚生) 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.
In Cantonese it is known as “lo sheng” with “lo” 捞 also meaning “tossing up good fortune”. The tossing action is called “Lo Hei”, which means to “rise” (起 “hei”), again a reference to a thriving business and thus its popularity with businessmen during the New Year. Hence it is believed the higher you toss the ingredients in the salad, the greater your fortunes will be.
While versions of it are thought to have existed in China, the contemporary version was created and popularized in the 1960s amongst the ethnic Chinese community and its consumption has been associated with Chinese New Year festivities in Maritime Southeast Asia.
Today, the common form of yusheng is the qicai yusheng (七彩鱼生; “seven-coloured raw fish salad”) served in local restaurants during the Chinese New Year period. Also referred to as facai yusheng (发财鱼生; “prosperity raw fish salad”) or xinnian yusheng (新年鱼生; “Chinese New Year raw fish salad”), this present colorful take on yusheng has an uncertain origin.
However, there are two competing claims to the origins of the modern take on yusheng: the first school said it was invented by a Malaysian named Loke Ching Fatt in Seremban, Malaysia in the 1940s; the second opinion says it was created in the 1960s by 4 Singaporean chefs. The Malaysian Chinese dispute the origins of this dish, so much that the dish was declared Malaysian heritage food by the Malaysian Department of National Heritage – for the purposes of this post, we are focusing on a Singaporean interpretation of the dish, thus the use of ‘Singapore’ in the post title.
The Chinese China Cuisine Association mentions the tradition coming from Guangdong, China before the dishes were brought to Southeast Asia by Chinese immigration. However, the statement only mentions the tradition of having raw fish during Chinese New Year, which was served very differently from today’s Yusheng. Eating Yusheng during Chinese New Year is a cultural activity for Chinese living in Malaysia and Singapore, but not so much in other Chinese-populated regions such as Hong Kong, where the practice is almost unheard of.
The dish made its Singapore debut during Lunar New Year of 1964 in Singapore’s Lai Wah Restaurant (Established in Sept. 1963). The 4 master chefs were 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, established on 8 April 1963) and Sin Leong (founder of Sin Leong Restaurant) who, together created that as a symbol of prosperity and good health amongst the Chinese. Together, they are known as the “Four Heavenly Kings” in the Singapore restaurant scene.
In the 1970s, Lai Wah Restaurant started the modern-day method of serving yusheng with a pre-mixed special sauce comprising plum sauce, rice vinegar, kumquat paste and sesame oil – instead of customers mixing inconsistently-concocted sauce.
There are a number of very specific, codified rules to serving Yusheng – the most important is that it must be tossed AS HIGH AS POSSIBLE – below I list all the rituals for those interested in duplicating the full restaurant exprience at home!
When putting the yusheng on the table, New Year’s greetings are offered. Some of the phrases commonly used are:
- 恭喜发财 / 恭喜發財 (pinyin: gong xi fa cai; Jyutping: gung1 hei2 faat3 coi4) meaning “Congratulations for your wealth”
- 万事如意 / 萬事如意 (pinyin: wan shi ru yi; Jyutping: maan6 si6 jyu4 ji3) meaning “May all your wishes be fulfilled”
I found this exceptional guide as to how to properly serve and enjoy this dish on aspirantsg.com:
Before you get started on the yusheng, you should offer sincere well-wishes such as 恭喜发财 “Gong Xi Fa Cai” meaning “Congratulations for your wealth” or 万事如意 “Wan shi ru yi” meaning “May all your wishes be fulfilled” to everyone at the table. Next, let’s embark on the 12 steps and sayings everyone at the table should say before enjoying Lo Hei (toss the good luck)!:
- 1. In goes the raw fish (生鱼, Sheng Yu) 年年有馀 – say “Nian Nian You Yu” symbolizing abundance ‘excess’ through the new year
- 2. Put in the pomelo (柚子, You Zi) 大吉大利 – say “Da Ji Da Li” which means good fortunes and luck.
- 3. Sprinkle pepper & cinnamon powder (胡椒粉, Hu Jiao Fen) – say 招财进宝 “Zhao Cai Jin Bao” to attract more wealth and treasures. This step is a must for business lo hei.
- 4. Drizzle the oil (油, You) You can either say “财原广进 “Cai Yuan Guang Jin” or 一本万利 “Yi Ben Wan Li” while circling the ingredients with the oil to increase all profits 10,000 times and encouraging money to flow in from all directions. Thrill your bosses with this step!
- 5. Throw in the carrots (红萝卜, Hong Luo Bo) – say 鸿运当头 “Hong Yun Dang Tou” which means good luck is right at our doorsteps.
- 6. Put in the shredded green radish (青萝卜, Qing Luo Bo) – say 青春常驻 “Qing Chun Chang Zhu” for eternal youth. Good to let the ladies have a go at this one.
- 7. Now goes the shredded white radish (白萝卜, Bai Luo Bo) – say 风生水起 “Feng Sheng Shui Qi” and 步步高升 “Bu Bu Gao Sheng” which means prosperity in business and promotion at work. This is for all the minions at work.
- 8. Dust finely chopped peanuts (花生粉, Hua Sheng Fen) – say 金银满屋 “Jin yin man wu” symbolises a household filled with gold and silver. As an icon of longevity, peanuts also symbolise eternal youth.
- 9. Sprinkle sesame seeds over quickly (芝麻, Zhi Ma) – say 生意兴隆 “Sheng Yi Xing Long” for a flourishing business.
- 10. Throw in Golden Crackers (薄脆饼干, Bo Cui Bing Gan) 遍地黄金 – say “Bian Di Huang Jin” for hope of riches that literally fill the whole floor with gold. (TFD Note – I also use REAL gold flakes in my version!)
- 11. In flows the plum sauce-based dressing (酸梅酱, Suan Mei Jiang) – say 甜甜蜜蜜 “Tian Tian Mi Mi” for sweet and loving relationships for everyone.
- 12. Toss The Yusheng – Shout 发啊 “Huat Ah” and toss the salad for an auspicious 7 times for great luck and wealth in the new year!
My version of this classic dish is especially luxurious (of course) and includes a lucky total of 27 ingredients, of which 18 (a most auspicious number!) are in the salad itself! Mine includes magnificent symbolic ingredients such as lobster, which signifies happiness and laughter throughout the year (哈哈大笑) as well as a sauce that creates a striking balance of rich and refreshing flavors.
Lastly, I choose to gild my yusheng with REAL edible gold leaf flakes for extra prosperity and good fortune, while the magnificent mountain of shredded daikon alludes to soaring achievements and success in the year ahead all complemented by vibrant vegetables and pickled ginger. Additional slices of raw sashimi-grade yellowtail fish herald wealth and abundance to come in addition to the classic salmon – I however prefer to use top-quality smoked salmon in my version instead of raw.
Citizens – this is a very festive dish to herald what all of us hope will be a far better year – do your part, make this dish, feast and celebrate in the hopes that the Year of the Metal Ox is as positive as the horoscope seems to indicate! I might suggest enjoying this with a delicious dessert of Shandong-style candied apples to guarantee a sweet new year for you and yours!
Remember – TOSS YUSHENG REALLY HIGH, AS HIGH AS YOU CAN before serving in front of all your guests – and remember that you can adjust the amounts of the salad suitable for your number of guests (it’s why I don’t include amounts), use different ingredients outside of the ‘official’ ones and ENJOY your Year of the Metal Ox!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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