Lucky Yu Sheng

“Toss for Good Fortune!”

old pictures of Singapore circa 1940’s to 1950’s

Makansutra Asian Food Village is located within the Manila Ocean Park complex with several street scene reminiscent of old Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand  or Canton in China. There are several hundreds of mouth watering dishes being served in several food stalls in the Asian themed food village.

For local and international tourist a visit to the place is considered as a chance to sample great Asian dishes presented in an unique manner.

The group was treated in an afternoon of delight last February 9, 2010 by the courteous and friendly staffs and managers of the Makansutra Asian Food Village were  a special dish only for the Chinese New Year, comprising several symbolic delicacies which we know as Yushang. When Yushang is eaten, the ritual is for all to energetically  toss the mixed ingredients high in the air with  shouts of “Loh Hei” which literally means to ‘scaling up in life’, and other traditional meaningful phrases like “xing nian kwai le” (happy new year), “nian nian yu yue” (yearly fortune), “sen di jian kang” (good health), prosperity  etc…

Ms. Tina Santos ( green shirt) together with Mr. Christopher Legaspi briefing the invited guests and media

Each ingredient in this dish has a definitive and symbolic meaning to it, all in relation of prosperity, good luck and well blessings for this New Year. It is the most auspicious and popular dish for the festive season. Almost every Chinese in Singapore and their friends (non Chinese included) must have this dish together and confer blessings to each other to ring in a great year ahead.

Noodles – one of the auspicious foods served during celebrations

Most Malaysians , Singaporeans and the Peranakans ( Chinese born in Malaysia and Singapore) it seems, are somewhat indifferent to this dish that is so integral to Chinese New Year in Malaysia , Singapore and parts of China. Yes, it’s lucky and yes, it should be a part of any New Year banquet, but the consensus seemed to be that it rarely inspires cravings.

In the Philippines , this  dish is not commonly served in restaurants and some Filipino- Chinese families do not observed this ritual of tossing the salad.

Yu Sheng Salad ingredients

And I know why. Most versions of yu sheng are, to my palate at least, gloppy, overly sweet piles of unidentifiable ingredients with little discernible flavor, a dish of vegetables and fish (yu sheng means raw or fresh fish) that tastes nothing like either.

The yu sheng is assembled at a lucky red-clothed, triple-tiered prep area at the front of the restaurant. Every ingredient is made or prepared in-house, making the dish an incredibly labor-intensive endeavor. Many restaurants have simplified the process by outsourcing some ingredients and leaving others out altogether.

Before the yu sheng comes together the staff marinates fish slices (jellyfish is another option) and ginger matchsticks in sesame oil. Then pickled ginger (two kinds – white and red), pomelo sacs, pickled green papaya, shredded green onion, pickled shallots, carrot and picama strings, chopped peanuts, sesame seeds, julienned lime leaves, and chopped cilantro are heaped onto a platter and anointed with a drizzle of plum sauce. The lot is showered with strips of deep-fried won ton skins, garnished with lime wedges and green and red packets of white pepper and cinnamon, and served with the marinated fish.

It’s up to diners to empty their packets of pepper and cinnamon onto the fish and give it a good mix before adding it to the other ingredients. Then, a squeeze of lime and much tossing with chopsticks, preferably while chanting a few lucky phrases to auspiciously usher in the New Year.

Filipino chef  trained in Singapore -Chinese style cooking tossing the salad

yu sheng is a textural marvel – the combination of six fresh and pickled ingredients, cut to almost exactly the same shape and size, culminates in one big, satisfying crunch. It’s sweet from the plum sauce, but also boasts varying shades of tartness from pickles, lime juice, and fragrant lime leaves. The overwhelming flavors are of fish and vegetables, spiced up with ginger two ways (pickled and fresh) and white pepper. The cinnamon adds a subtle warm note. Won ton crisps (most other versions use colored crunchies of unidentifiable origin) – sturdy, grease-less, and wheaty – are delicious enough to eat on their own. Kudos to the restaurant for its light hand with the dressing and for its use of sesame oil; I’ve had more than my share of yu sheng drenched in plain old cooking oil – blech!

Balance, balance, balance. Wondering at the magic worked in that kitchen. The combined knowledge of the restaurant’s chefs and prep cooks gives rise to dishes that are nuanced, complex, and always balanced. The yu sheng is no different.

The best illustration of the care taken at Makansutra  ,  those are red and green envelopes. They’re wrapped by hand and their jagged, uneven edges suggest one-by-one, scissor-cut origins. Each year,  staff cuts thousands of pieces of paper into rough squares, lays them flat on a table, spoons ground white pepper and cinnamon in their centers, and folds in the four corners. All this even though pre-filled packets can be easily sourced from a supplier.

For us,  Chinese New Year has always meant extra vacation days and a travel adventure. From now on,this popular dish called ” Yu Sheng ”  is also served at the  Makansutra Asian Food Village  .

mixed Yu Sheng

Winning Toss

Besides being full of flavors and textures, yu sheng is loaded with symbolic meaning. The raw ingredients signify the renewal of life, and the sound of the word for fish in Cantonese sounds like the word for prosperity. The most important (and fun) part of eating yu sheng is the mixing together of the ingredients.

Ms. Gloria B.Jane Baylon – DFA & Philippine News Agency press enjoying the tossing of salad

To ensure good luck for the coming year, everyone calls out “Lo Hei!”-which means “to mix it up” but also sounds like “to prosper more and more”-while they use their chopsticks to toss the ingredients as high in the air as they can. Now that’s what I call a well-tossed salad!

Makansutra Asian Food Village

Contact : Ms. Tina Santos

Location: Manila Ocean Park
Behind Quirino Grandstand , Luneta Park, Manila
Telephone: +63 2 567 3512
Fax: +63 2  567 3512 loc. 105

Business Hours : 11am – 9pm daily