Family reunions on the eve of Chinese New Year (11 February 2021 this year) usually include delicacies that were traditionally a rare treat for the common man. Ingredients like abalone, fish and the fat choy black moss, chosen for their auspicious-sounding names, make their way into decadent dishes like yu sheng and pen cai.
For most Singaporeans, yu sheng (鱼生) or yusang in Cantonese, needs no introduction. It’s a must-have for the traditional lo hei that starts any feast. This communal Chinese New Year ritual sees everyone, armed with chopsticks, tossing the separately placed ingredients in this raw fish and vegetable salad as high into the air as possible. While the dish name itself is means raw fish, more restaurants now offer alternatives in the form of smoked salmon, abalone and—a new trend in yu sheng this year—lobster.
Pen cai (盆菜), also known as poon choi or poon choy, is a braised dish brimming with luxurious ingredients carefully layered in a large pot. This one-pot dish doesn’t have a fixed list of ingredients so chefs can get creative with the mix, but it is usually a large dish (“pen” means “basin”) that’s a treasure trove of seafood such as king prawns, abalone and scallop (conpoy). Chinese mushrooms and broccoli are also common.
Reunion sets or prosperity bundles are for those who want a bit of everything during Chinese New Year. These family-sized set meals usually include yusheng and pencai, and a variety of dishes such as roast duck, suckling pig, and salted vegetable duck soup (kiam chye ark). The best restaurants in Singapore offer different menus, and for a varying number of people from 2pax to 10 or more.
Steamboat is a traditional family reunion meal during Chinese New Year. The queues at hotpot hotspots like Haidilao and Beauty in the Pot are already endless, but thankfully both of these popular Singapore hotpot restaurants deliver, so you can have a steamboat buffet right at home!
Q. Quick, help me out! What are the yu sheng sayings for the lo hei toss?
As you can probably tell, the Chinese are big on propitious puns, and the Lo Hei is swimming with wordplays of well-wishes. Lo hei (捞起), which is Cantonese for “toss up”, is a boisterous, messy food ritual more popular in Singapore than in other parts of the Chinese world.
Have the following list bookmarked so you know all the right blessings to pronounce as ingredients are added to the yu sheng at your next lo hei!
1. Raw fish (or abalone) 年年有余 nián nián yǒu yú Abundance, year after year
2. Pomelo 大吉大利 dà jí dà lì Extremely lucky and great prosperity
3. Five spice powder and pepper powder 招财进宝 zhāo cái jìn bǎo Usher in luck and fortune
4. Oil 财源广进 cái yuán guǎng jìn Vast amounts of wealth and fortune
5. Shredded carrot 鸿运当头 hóng yùn dāng tóu May you be extremely lucky this year
6. Shredded green radish 青春常驻 qīng chūn cháng zhù A wish for eternal youth
7. Shredded white radish 风生水起，步步高升 fēng shēng shuǐ qǐ, bù bù gāo shēng Swift progress and promotion
8. Sesame seeds & crushed peanuts 金银满屋，生意兴隆 jīn yín mǎn wū, shēng yì xīng lóng Incoming wealth and booming business
9. Golden pillow crackers (a personal favourite) 遍地黄金 biàn dì huáng jīn Gold everywhere
11. Lo! Let the tossing begin! Everyone’s favourite part: Mixing the salad by tossing everything up high while shouting “Huat ah!” It’s said that the higher you toss, the luckier you will be in the new year. (Although I’m not sure what getting radish and carrot in your hair means though.)