In Chinese tradition, it’s auspicious to eat certain types of food during the Lunar New Year. It’s not too late if you failed to do so last Jan. 28 to welcome the Year of the Rooster.
Tomorrow, Feb. 3, is the 7th day of the Lunar New Year. It is called “Renri”—ren, for man; ri, for day. In Chinese mythology, this was the day humanity was created.
On this day, people partake of the dish Lo Hei Yusheng or a salad of raw fish with shredded vegetables.
In Cantonese, lo means “to mix” or “toss”; hei is “up”; yu is “fish” and also sounds like the Chinese word for abundance; sheng is “shredded vegetables” and can also mean “raw” and “life.”
Lo Hei Yusheng signifies prosperity and abundance, or a wealthy life. Before it is served, it is tossed (up) to beckon good fortune.
Foodie Joseph Tiu was raised in a household rich in tradition, where tales and customs were passed on through generations.
While his grandfather, Tiu Kim Hok, from Xiamen, introduced him to the myth that surrounds the tikoy, his uncle Nelson Lui, from Hong Kong, taught him the fun and colorful ritual that is Lo Hei.
The practice, common in Chinese fishing villages, dates back some 700 years, to the Song dynasty.
The salad is prepared with at least seven ingredients, with more elements added for visual appeal.
Joseph describes how it’s prepared at home. The family, standing around the table, chopsticks in hand, watches as each salad ingredient is added, one by one, in a particular order, on a large plate.
A chant follows each laying of ingredient. There is special emphasis on how the Chinese word sounds, or the symbolism each ingredient represents.
Joseph recalls that the fish used in the olden days was grass carp or Imelda. Now it’s salmon sashimi or smoked salmon.
When the fish is added, the family chants: “Gong Xi Fa Cái” (Happy New Year) and “Nian Nian You Yu” (May every year end with plenty of fish).
For pomelo, the chant is “Da Ji Da Li” (Good luck and great prosperity).
Carrots and/or red capsicum: “Hong Yun Dang Tou” (Good luck is coming).
Green radish, cucumber, fresh Chinese parsley: “Qing Chun Chang Zhu” (Wish you forever young).
White radish: “Bu Bu Gao Sheng” (Reaching higher levels with each step) and “Feng Sheng Shui Qi” (Wish you progress at a fast pace).
Peanuts: “Jin Yin Man Wu” (House filled with gold and silver). Generously sprinkling peanuts over the salad alludes to filling the home with jin (gold) and yin (silver).
Crisps (fried shredded wonton, crackers or chips): “Man Di Huang Jin” (Full of gold everywhere).
Sesame seeds: “Sheng Yi Xing Long” (Prosperity in business).
Salt and pepper: “Zhao Cai Jin Bao” (May you attract wealth and treasures).
Oil: “Cai Yuan Guang Jin” (More treasures coming).
Plum sauce: “Tian Tian Mi Mi” (Sweet and loving relationships).
Toss and scream
Once all the ingredients are on the platter, it’s customary to toss the salad seven times while everyone screams out their well-wishes. The ingredients are pushed toward the center of the plate, symbolizing wealth being brought to the table.
Great fortune awaits the one who tosses the highest and screams the loudest.
I recall watching a prosperity toss video with diners loudly verbalizing their dreams for a new house, a new car—all in the spirit of fun!
The joy and laughter of being with family and friends, the exchange of well-wishes, the tidings of good fortune and cheer make Lo Hei Yusheng one lucky dish.
Tao Yuan’s Prosperity Toss
Singaporeans Peter Tay and chef Kok Wing Yap of Tao Yuan Restaurant at Resort’s World Manila prepare Lo Hei Yusheng the way it’s done in Singapore and Malaysia.
Their recipe, a mix of Teochew, Hokkien and Cantonese, varies slightly from what the Tius make at home.
Lo Hei Yusheng is offered at Tao Yuan until the end of the 15-day Lunar New Year celebration, which falls on Feb. 14.
Tao Yuan Restaurant, 2/F, Newport Mall, Resorts World Manila; tel. 8469998
Do it yourself
To recreate the Prosperity Toss:
Prepare thinly sliced fresh sashimi-grade or smoked salmon and equal portions of shredded vegetables.
Sprinkle the salad with peanuts (toasted and unsalted) and sesame seeds according to preference.
Season with salt and pepper.
Dress the salad with a mixture of plum sauce whisked with a bit of sesame oil.
Adjust according to taste.