Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Today, the seventh day of Chinese New Year, is Ren Ri, or every man's birthday. To celebrate, one traditionally eats a dish called Qi Yang Cai (literally seven kinds of vegetables) and Yu Sheng (lucky raw fish).

The point of Yu Sheng is to secure prosperity in the year to come, and a running patter on the part of the host, or waiter, is part of the deal, as is a meticulous set-up.

A mound of shredded vegetables should be at centerstage, surrounded by five mounds of raw fish and small dishes holding flavorings. As each is added to the salad, the server calls out a wish for health or wealth (mostly wealth), and in the end the diners toss the salad and call out "lo hei!" - literally "to rise" or "mix it up," but with the sentimental meaning "to prosper more and more."

Steps For The Presentation of Yu Sheng
(adapted from the CNY feature in The Sunday Times, 18 Jan 05)

  1. The dish of vegetables arrives. Say Gong Xi Fa Cai (become rich) and Wan Shi Ru Yi (smooth sailing)
  2. Squeeze the lime over the fish on a separate plate. Say Da Ji Da Li (to be very auspicious).
  3. Place the fish over the vegetables. Say Nian Nian You Yu (to have a surplus every year).
  4. Sprinkle pepper (in a red packet) over the dish. Say Hong Yun Dang Tou (good luck at your doorstep).
  5. Sprinke cinnamon powder (in a green packet) over the dish. Say Qing Chun Chang Zhu.
  6. Add the peanut oil to the dish. Say Rong Hua Fu Gui (wealth and prosperity).
  7. Add the plum sauce to the dish. Say Sheng Yi Xing Long. (to have a prosperous business)
  8. Add the crackers to the dish. Say Man Di Huang Jin (to obtain much wealth)
  9. Toss the Yu Sheng. Say Yue Lao Yue Qi (toss higher for a prosperous year) and Lao Dao Feng Shen Shui Qi.
Supposedly, the higher you toss without making a mess, the more luck you earn.

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