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Happy Chinese New Year, my dear readers. The Chinese Lunar New Year is an exciting time of the year, even thou it doesn’t start on the first day of the calendar year as it follows the lunar calendar, there is a lot of hype within the Chinese households and the malls where people fuss about making Chinese New Year goodies, spring cleaning the house, making preparations to welcome the new year, gather with family and friends, as well as looking forward to good fortune and beginnings to come. Things that are iconic of the Chinese New Year in Singapore are Lou Hei Yu Sheng, pineapple tarts, reunion dinner on the eve of Lunar New Year, steamboat hotpot, new red clothes to wear on the first day of the Lunar New Year, visiting family and friends, exchanging of oranges, giving and receiving red packets containing money, happy Chinese New Year songs that play loudly in most malls, and many more!
What is Lou Hei Yu Sheng 捞起鱼生?
To me, one important part of celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year is the tossing of Yu Sheng or Lou Hei. According to traditions, the tossing of Yu Sheng is traditionally done on the 7th day of the Lunar New Year, however many Chinese restaurants offer this joyous dish throughout the entire 15 days. And these days, even before the Chinese New Year starts, we start doing the Lou Hei, just because we are in the mood for it.
The Yu Sheng dish typically comprise of a colourful palette of yam, carrot and radish, with the raw fish being the centrepiece, drizzled with plum sauce and some spices, and lastly sprinkled with some savoury crackers. It’s served as an appetizer before other foods are being served on the table. When serving the Yu Sheng, the server will usually recite auspicious phrases while adding each key ingredient onto the plate.
This is a vegetarian version, do check out my recipe for Abalone Yusheng too.
It’s a dish that is a must-serve during family gatherings as well as business lunches or dinners. During this time of the year, many restaurants are usually fully booked. In my business, we bring clients out for Lou Hei lunches every year as a token of appreciation.
Why do we Lou Hei Yu Sheng 捞起鱼生 during the Lunar New Year?
Lou hei is a verb that literally means ‘tossing’ or ‘to bring something up’ in Cantonese. Yu Sheng is a noun that means ‘raw fish’ in Chinese, another permutation is the ‘rise of excess’ and this excess usually means excess in all things good, be it fortune, luck, health, wisdom, long and long life.
Lou hei signifies the tossing of prosperity, the higher you toss, the more prosperous your new year will be, something that we are very fond of. Thus at the dining table during this time of the year, it’s not unusual that diners will stand up and all start tossing the Yu Sheng, while shouting ‘huat ah’ which means ‘let’s all prosper’ in Hokkien.
A Step-By-Step Guide on What to Say During Lou Hei
Here are 8 steps to Lou Hei Yu Sheng and what to say for each ingredient when it’s being added.
1) Main plate
While this dish is being presented, the condiments are usually by the side. You will want to say 4-5 phrases that represent the main plate which comprise of shredded vegetables.
- 祝大家 /zhù dà jiā/ – Wishing everyone
- 新年快乐 /xīn nián kuài lè/ – Happy New Year
- 风生水起 /fēng shēng shuǐ qǐ/ – Success in all things you do
- 幸福安康 /xìngfú ān kāng/ – Happy and healthy
- 生意兴隆 May your business flourish with great growth and profits
2) Smoke salmon or sashimi or abalone slices (Optional)
If you would like to add some smoked salmon, sashimi slices or abalone slices , this will be the first to add in before the honey and olive oil. Add in the slices randomly on the dish, you can say:
- 年年有余 /nián nián yǒu yú/ – Abundance of wealth, luck, and everything else throughout the whole year
- 步步高升 /bù bù gāo shēng/ – Growth in business and promotion at work
For my recipe, I didn’t use any seafood or meat products so I will recite these two greetings with my main plate.
Add in the honey in a circular motion while saying:
- 甜甜蜜蜜 /tián tián mì mì/ – Sweet and loving relationship particularly in the context of love relationship
- 鸿运当头 /hóng yùn dāng tóu/ – Great luck from the start of the year
4) Extra virgin olive oil
While tossing in the olive oil in a circular motion, say:
- 财源滚滚 /cái yuán gǔn gǔn/ – Sources of income keep on flowing in to you
- 一本万利 /yī běn wàn lì/ – Tremendous growth of profits by ten thousand fold
5) Salt and pepper
Sprinkle salt and pepper generously all over the plate, of course not too much if not the dish will be too salty.
- 金玉满堂 /jīn yù mǎn táng/ – A household full of gold and jade (very precious things)
- 招财进宝 /zhāo cái jìn bǎo/ – Wealth and fortune will come rolling in to your household
6) Lemon or lime (this is optional)
Squeeze fresh lemon juice or lime juice on the dish all over, while saying:
- 大吉大利 /dà jí dà lì/ – Great prosperity, fortune, and good luck in all things you do
- 青春永驻 /qīng chūn yǒng zhù/ – Always youthful
7) Pistachio nuts
Sprinkle generous amount of chopped pistachio nuts all over the dish, and say:
- 遍地黄金 /biàn dì huáng jīn/ – Find gold everywhere you go, meaning you will have great wealth in all things you do
- 金银满屋 /jīn yín mǎn wū/ – A house full of gold and silver
8) Toss the Yu Sheng
When all the ingredients are being added to the plate, it’s time for everyone to pick up the chopsticks and get ready to toss the Yu Sheng. This action is the actual Lou Hei. While tossing, you can say anything auspicious and it’s believed that the louder you recite the more prosperous you will get. The higher you toss, the more wealth, luck and prosperity you will get.
- 发啊 /huat ah/ – Let’s all prosper!
Watch my video on how to prepare the Bunny Lou Hei Yu Sheng
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Lou Hei Yu Sheng (Vegetarian) 捞鱼生
- 1 purple cabbage
- 1 radish
- ½ red pomelo
- 100g wakame (Japanese seaweed)
- 2-3 Japanese cucumbers
- 2-3 carrots
- 1 not-so-ripe mango
- ½ lemon or lime optional
- 100 g pistachio shell removed and chopped
- 1 tbsp Manuka honey
- 3-5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Salt season to taste
- Black pepper season to taste
- 2-3 Seaweed sheets
- 1 cherry tomato
- Wash, peel, shred cucumbers, carrots, radish into thin strips using a vegetable spiralizer.Note: I used a vegetable spiralizer machine.1 radish, 2-3 Japanese cucumbers, 2-3 carrots
- Slice purple cabbage thinly. Note: I used a large vegetable peeler.1 purple cabbage
- Peel and shred mango. Note: I used a julienne peeler.1 not-so-ripe mango
- Remove pomelo flesh and separate the flesh into small chunks.1/2 red pomelo
- Remove shell from pistachio and chop into coarse pieces.100 g pistachio
- Use the tip of the cherry tomato as the nose.2-3 Seaweed sheets, 1 cherry tomato
- Assemble shredded ingredients on a large round dish – mango, cucumbers, carrots, purple cabbage, pomelo, radish wakame, making a bunny shape and 2 carrot shapes. Use seaweed sheets to cut out shapes of the eye and mouth for the animal zodiac sign of the year for decoration.100g wakame (Japanese seaweed)
- When ready to serve the Yu Sheng, use the dressing with these combination, each added separately: Manuka honey, extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper. Squeeze fresh lemon juice (optional). Sprinkle with chopped pistachio.Note: Add sliced sashimi or abalone or smoked salmon. Adding seafood is optional in this recipe1/2 lemon or lime, 1 tbsp Manuka honey, 3-5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, Salt, Black pepper