Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Chinese New Year: 'Lucky' dish at centre of annual festivities

A raw fish dish, introduced by fishermen in Guangdong and made popular in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, is becoming a Chinese New Year must-have for some in New Zealand.

Yusheng, also known as lo hei or prosperity toss, is a kaleidoscopic sweet-and-savoury dish consisting of raw fish mixed with shredded vegetables and a variety of sauces and condiments.

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"It's an iconic dish that we cannot do without at Chinese New Year because of what the dish stands for," said Malaysian chef Janet Chan.

"Every ingredient in yusheng has a special significance and is believed to bring those who eat it good luck for the coming year."

The fish symbolises abundance, shredded radish represents eternal youth and the deep-fried flour crisps represent wealth or gold.

Certain dishes are eaten during Chinese New Year for their symbolic meaning, often based on their Chinese pronunciation or appearance.

"Fish is something we cannot do without because 'yu' in Chinese sounds like 'abundance', and we all want a life that is plentiful," said Mrs Chan.

"With yusheng, the fish is eaten raw to symbolise a fresh clean start or a new life."

Before eating, diners at the table will stand and toss the ingredients in the air with chopsticks shouting auspicious wishes.

They include "nian nian you yu" meaning "abundance through the year" or "tian tian mi mi", translated as "may your life always be sweet".

The present form of yusheng is believed to have been introduced in Chaozhou and Shantou during the Southern Song Dynasty between 960 and 1279. However, it was popularised by ethnic Chinese who migrated to Southeast Asia.

Prosperity toss consists of raw fish mixed with shredded vegetables and a variety of sauces and condiments. Photo / Dean Purcell
Prosperity toss consists of raw fish mixed with shredded vegetables and a variety of sauces and condiments. Photo / Dean Purcell

Versions of the dish have appeared on Chinese New Year menus at many restaurants.

SkyCity's Jade Dragon has yusheng on all its New Year set meals, and the dish is also offered at Bunga Raya in New Lynn and Angie's Kitchen in the central city.

A feng shui practitioner, Mrs Chan said there was a litany of traditions and taboos to be respected during the Lunar New Year.

"Put away all brooms, brushes and dustpans, and never wash your hair on the first day or your luck will just go down the drain," she said. "People shouldn't swear, avoid talking about death and don't wear clothing representing negativity like black or white."

Recounting Chinese New Year back in Malaysia, recent migrant Theresa Chong remembers how yusheng was eaten at every family reunion dinner.

"To me, yusheng symbolises Chinese New Year, which is about family and friends coming together with wishes of good luck and happiness," said Ms Chong, a procurement manager at NZME.

- NZ Herald

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