It's a toss up


It isn't just raw fish and salad that go into yusheng these days

YUSHENG, or raw fish salad, has gone from a humble dish eaten by fisherman in Guangzhou, China, to being a Chinese New Year delicacy here.

The dish brings family and friends together as they lo hei, or toss the salad, for good fortune and success. It is traditionally eaten on the seventh day of the lunar new year, which is said to be the birthday of mankind.

Mr Hooi Kok Wai, 70, founder of Dragon Phoenix Restaurant in River Valley Road, says yusheng, as it was eaten here in the early 1900s, comprised raw fish and slices of cucumber, radish and coriander. It was served with bottles of vinegar, oil and sugar, which diners would use to flavour the dish.

Mr Hooi and three friends, chefs Sin Leong, the late Tham Mui Kai and the late Lau Yeok Pui, however, decided to spice up the plain-looking dish in 1963.

'In the 1960s, most families ate their reunion dinners at home. To lure them to the restaurants, we came up with the idea of selling a more festive-looking and elaborate yusheng,' says Mr Hooi.

More than 10 colourful ingredients were added to the salad including red pickled ginger, carrots and sun-dried oranges. The dressing was also replaced with plum sauce.

The revamped yusheng quickly became a crowd-pleaser and, these days, chefs continue to come up with new flavours to entice diners. Some go as far as offering yusheng that do not contain raw fish.

Chef Chan Sung Og, 52, executive chef of Prima Tower Revolving Restaurant, for example, is introducing a braised pig's trotter yusheng.

On why he chose to replace the raw fish with pig's trotters, he says: 'This version was created for those who don't eat raw food. Also, pig's trotters are said to bring good fortune.'

LifeStyle highlights eight newfangled yusheng:

HAI TIEN LO
7 Raffles Boulevard, Marina Square, Pan Pacific, Tel: 6826-8240

Cost: $68 (four persons)

This cobia fish yusheng is topped with a generous serving of imperial swiftlet bird's nest, which makes the already healthy salad dish more nutritious.

KURIYA JAPANESE RESTAURANT
1 Scotts Road, 05-01 Shaw Centre, Tel: 6735-5300

Cost: From $38.80 (one to two persons) to $88.80 (5 to 6 persons)

This yusheng is given a Japanese twist with salmon, amberjack and sea bream sashimi as well as prawns, salmon roe and flying fish roe. A sprinkling of gold dust tops off the dish.

HUA TING RESTAURANT
442 Orchard Road, Orchard Hotel, Tel: 6739-6666

Cost: $58 (small) and $108 (large)

This Italian parma ham yusheng (left), inspired by the pairing of parma ham and cantaloupe, introduces a smoky saltiness to the usually sweet and sour dish.

PONTINI
Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel, 392 Havelock Road, Tel: 6233-1133

Cost: $48.88 (four to six persons) and $68.88 (Eight to 10 persons)

Arugula leaves, dried apricots, pine nuts, artichokes, olives and tomato chips are some of the ingredients in this Italian seabass salad (right). It comes dressed in extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar rather than the traditional plum sauce.

SUMI YAKITORI
176 Orchard Road, B2-101, The Centrepoint, Tel: 6836-0912

Cost: $38.80 (Eight to 10 persons)

This salmon yusheng (left) uses only organic vegetables including butterhead lettuce and red coral lettuce. It also uses a fruit juice-based sauce made of mandarin oranges, lime and honey.

PINE COURT CHINESE RESTAURANT
333 Orchard Road, Meritus Mandarin, Tel: 6831-6262

Cost: $88 (small) and $168 (large)

Yusheng scales a new high with this shark's fin version that comes with an XO brandy sauce. Other ingredients include snow pear, bonito flakes and truffle oil.

SUMMER PAVILION
7 Raffles Avenue, The Ritz Carlton, Millenia, Tel: 6434-5286

Cost: $65 (small) and $130 (large)

If you're looking for something decadent, this caviar yusheng is it. It comes with three types of caviar - bottarga or cured tuna roe, avruga or sturgeon roe, and tobiko or flying fish roe.

PRIMA TOWER REVOLVING RESTAURANT
201 Keppel Road, Tel: 6272-8822


Cost: $48 (small), $68 (medium) and $88 (large)

There are no raw surprises here, only slow-braised pig's trotter and crunchy jellyfish in this yusheng.



WHAT TO SAY

HERE'S the list of auspicious sayings to be uttered, and their meanings, when putting together the ingredients for yusheng. Raw fish: nian nian you yu, for abundance

Lime: da ji da li, for good luck

Five spice powder and pepper: wu fu lin men, for good fortune

Plum sauce: tian tian mi mi, for a honeyed year

White radish: wan shi ru yi, for success

Red chilli: zhao cai jin bao, for prosperity

Lettuce: he qi sheng cai, for harmony and wealth

Carrot: bu bu gao sheng, for eminence

Pickled red ginger: hong yun dang tou, for good luck

Oil: fu yun nian nian, for good fortune and luck

Peanuts: jin sha man tang, for prosperity

Crispy crackers: bian di huang jin, for prosperity

When tossing: Utter anything auspicious, including sheng yi xing long, for brisk business, and sheng ti jian kang, for good health