Sunday, March 04, 2007

Chinese New Year Lo Hei in Singapore

Tonight is the last night of Chinese New Year, which started on February 18. You've got to love a culture that celebrates New Year for two weeks!

This year I did my first lo hei - in fact, three lo heis in the space of four days, ranging from a casual get-together with Ash's friends to a huge ballroom affair sponsored by Microsoft. By the last one I was a certified expert at tossing raw salmon salad with a pair of chopsticks.

Lo Hei, pronounced "lo hey", is a focal point of Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore and Malaysia. A salad made of julienned vegetables, prawn crackers, chopped peanuts, plum sauce, and strips of raw fish, is placed on a plate in the center of the table. Everyone gathers round and then uses their chopsticks to toss the salad as high as they can for good luck... while yelling out wishes for the new year. I have to say, don't wish for a new job at your company's lo hei or you might find your wish granted sooner than you'd like.

The salad itself is called yu sheng or yusheng, which literally means "raw fish". It symbolizes prosperity - like many other Chinese New Year customs. Top-quality yu sheng tastes pretty good, even though I'm generally not a fan of either raw carrots, raw salmon, or plum sauce when taken individually.

Funnily enough, most of my Singaporean friends describe lo hei as an imported custom from Hong Kong and mainland China, while my Hong Kong friends look at the salmon-tossing in amazement and say they've never done anything like it. According to Wikipedia, yu sheng salad in its current form was popularized by a Singaporean chef in 1964.

I'm told Singapore Airlines has served yu sheng on board its flights and I was briefly taken aback by the thought of hundreds of airline passengers tossing julienned carrots over their airline trays and yelling "Good luck! Big bonus!". No, my traveller friend clarified quickly, they didn't do any of the tossing - just served the salad neatly on the usual airline plate.

My vote for the best yu sheng I had this year goes to... Pan Pacific hotel.

Read more about Chinese New Year in Singapore:
Check out other food experiences I've had in Singapore, or posts about
Singapore life in general.

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