Raw fish for abundance. Pomelo for luck. Cucumber for eternal youth and plum sauce for profits. Now, throw it all in the air with a table of your nearest and dearest, raise your voice in the name of prosperity and watch the good fortunes roll in.
Yusheng (鱼生), or yee sang, is a cold salad of raw fish and raw vegetables enjoyed at Lunar New Year. It’s become a common sight on the Lunar New Year menus of Melbourne in recent years, and, like many Lunar New Year dishes, it’s as layered with flavour as it is meaning: “yu” in Mandarin is a homophone for abundance, making a yusheng both a festive centrepiece and a magnet for prosperity.
Each element of the yusheng comes with its own accompanying chengyu, or idiom. They’re designed to help the good fortunes flow, and diners are encouraged to speak them loudly as the elements are being laid down on the plate – “da ji da li”, or “good luck and great prosperity”, when the pomelo hits; “jin yin man wu”, or “may your house be filled with silver and gold”, as you scatter peanuts atop the salad. Once the ingredients have been arranged in their specific order, the chengyu spoken and the plum sauce drizzled in a clockwise motion, diners then go about the tossing phase. Each person uses their chopsticks to toss the salad, lifting vegetables and fish high into the air – roughly a foot, but the higher the better – and mixing them about, uttering the yusheng idioms again as they go. Then, salad tossed and New Year’s bounty summoned, it’s time to feast.
Melbourne has seen a big increase in the number of restaurants serving yusheng in the last few years. Maybe you’re planning your own yusheng party, but on the off chance you’re not, here are eight excellent ways to experience it yourself in Melbourne as we welcome the year of the dragon.
Southbank’s high house of regional Chinese food loves a seasonal celebration, and this year they’ve gone all out on a yusheng that’s almost too pretty to toss. A tuna-rich affair, it forms part of the restaurant’s Chinese New Year banquet, a nine-course epic, each dish representing a different fortune: luck, wealth, longevity and happiness among them.
Spice Temple, 10-26 February, spicetemple.com.au
Lee Ho Fook
While chef Victor Liong’s yusheng (pictured) stays closer to the classic brief than Spice Temple’s, the sheer amount of ocean trout bordering this thing is going to make for heavy tossing. Gong xi fa cai, indeed.
Lee Ho Fook, leehofook.com.au
Imagine if you could take your yusheng to even higher heights by adding the likes of green-lipped abalone, uni and freakin’ caviar to the mix. Make it so this Lunar New Year at Box Hill’s home of Japanese yakiniku, Katori.
Katori, 10-26 February, katori.com.au
It’s always a good day to pick up the phone and make a booking at Southeast Asian fine diner Sunda, but during the two weeks they serve a yusheng featuring Ora King salmon, yellowfin tuna and salmon caviar, it becomes a matter of urgency.
Sunda, 9-23 February, sunda.com.au
M Yong Tofu
First things first – if you haven’t had the pleasure of eating M Yong Tofu’s stuffed tofu, put your dinner in the fridge and make a beeline for Flemington. Once that’s out of the way, order the yusheng; they’ve been doing it for years and it’s a hit no matter the zodiac. Toss it high, toss it loud.
M Yong Tofu, 2-26 February, @myongtofu
North Melbourne’s Malaysian favourite CC Wok welcomes the inbound dragon with a classic yusheng available in two sizes. The regular will do six to eight prosperity chasers, the large 10 to 12. CC Wok pumps at the best of times; pre-order to avoid disappointment.
CC Wok, 9-26 February, ccwok.com.au
The hardy Beijinger of yore probably wouldn’t have had much to do with such a delicate, expressly southern Chinese dish, but respect to QV’s mega northern Chinese restaurant for kicking off their annual CNY banquet in such crisp, fresh form.
Old Beijing, 9-11 February, oldbeijing.com.au
Din Tai Fung
Din Tai Fung invites you to “toss your way to prosperity” from the fourth floor of Emporium this Lunar New Year, with a 15-ingredient yusheng starring smoked salmon and house-made plum sauce. While you’re there, definitely give the chocolate and sea salt-centred dragon buns a look.
Din Tai Fung, 3-24 February, dintaifung.com.au