Sunday, 7 February 2016

Yu Sheng, the messiest Chinese New Year party salad

Unfortunately, for me, the season’s indulgences don’t really stop after Christmas and New Year’s– for I have Chinese New Year to get my belly excited for. Unlike the Western New Year, which is all about the drinking, parties and fireworks, Chinese New Year is all about gathering family and friends together over food and gossip.

While I’m currently ??? miles away from home, one of the loveliest things about a multinational city like London, is the fact that you’re never far away from other homesick individuals. I’m not just talking about fellow Singaporeans or Chinese; I mean my blonde-haired blue-eyed Russian/ Swedish/ German/American mates too. A Chinese New Year party at home is a perfect excuse to gather your friends for a feast–whether they’re Chinese or not. In fact, even if you’re not Chinese, take this time of the year as the perfect occasion to try your hand at a different cuisine.

Last Saturday, I had a mini Chinese New Year party photoshoot for the Jamie Oliver site. I sent out a last-minute “SOS. Food.” message to all the friends living in my neighbourhood and got them round for a bit of early festive eating. If you were wise and planned ahead though, you can up the Chinese points by making your guests wear red and have your house pretty much decked in as much red as you can find. You can also turn the Chinese New Year tradition of exchanging oranges into a pretty sweet party trick i.e. force your guests to bring a couple of mandarins along with the obligatory six-pack of beer or bottle of wine.

There’s a pretty much endless list of celebration foods, but I decided to write about a dish that’s quite specific to Singapore and Malaysia– yu sheng, a raw fish salad with a dizzying mix of shredded colourful vegetables and a plum sauce-based dressing. What’s really exciting about the dish is that it involves the combined wrist power of all your guests. The dish starts out beautifully pristine, each component sitting in their neat little coloured mountains. Everyone then gathers around with a pair of chopsticks and at the indication of the host, digs in with fury, tossing the salad as high as possible while shouting their wishes for the new year. As a kid, over-eager little me would climb onto a chair and gleefully wave my chopsticks above the adults, screaming about acing my exams. I worry and scream about different things now, but the salad party remains a yearly tradition.

The original salad consists of an intimidating total of 27 “prosperous” ingredients, including raw salmon, different varieties of shredded vegetables, pickles, roasted nuts and seeds and fried crackers. Rather than give up on this Chinese New Year tradition altogether, I’ve simplified and adapted the recipe so you can easily recreate yu sheng with ingredients that are readily available in London. 


Serves 4-6
200g (1 large) carrot
200g (1 small) daikon radish/ mooli
200g (1 large) cucumber
200g sweet potato
200g pomelo*
groundnut oil, for frying
100g raw salmon sashimi, thinly sliced

¼ cup toasted sesame seeds
¼ cup roasted peanuts, crushed

for the sauce
200g plum sauce*
2 tablespoons lime juice (1 lime)
2 teaspoons sesame oil
¼ teaspoon five spice powder
big pinch of sea salt
big pinch of white pepper

* Pomelo is a citrus that looks like oversized grapefruits. It tastes similar but is less bitter and has a fragrant sweetness. If you can’t get hold of it, use grapefruit segments, tossed with a bit of sugar.
* Plum sauce is available from most Asian grocers and even the larger supermarkets. If you can’t get hold of plum sauce, use the same amount of your favourite marmalade with extra lime juice stirred in. It won’t taste exactly the same, but is a delicious dressing that works well with the rest of the ingredients. 

You'll have to hop over to the Jamie website to read the full feature!

Pro-tip on hindsight
Lay your table (and possibly floor) with paper or disposable cloth to make your life easier. This salad is quite literally an explosion of colours, flavours and texture; and while delicious, is a messy noisy affair.

I’m off now to my third Chinese New Year party of the week– a hotpot session where again, the combined greediness of friends and family is essential. Gong xi fa cai, and enjoy your excuse for a second New Year!