Lo Yu Sang (Raw Fish Salad Singaporean Style)

While thinking of some interesting (and healthy) dishes to serve during the summer months, one can actually look to tropical countries out in Asia for inspiration. Located just above the equator, Singapore enjoys a tropical climate, and the year-round temperature is around 75 to 88 degrees F. Therefore, Singaporean cuisine should be able to offer us plenty of inspirations for our summer culinary pleasure.

In my most recent visit, I had the opportunity to learn about a uniquely Singaporean dish from local culinary expert and cookbook author, Sylvia Tan (Singapore Heritage Book, Landmark Books, 2004).

Most Americans associate raw fish with Japanese cuisine, although many other Asian and non-Asian cultures use these uncooked delicacies from the water by preparing and serving them in distinctly different, and sometimes not that different styles.

Lo Yu Sang, sometimes referred to as Lo Hei, or raw fish salad, is truly a Singaporean invention. According to Tan and several other Singaporean chefs, four Cantonese chefs living in Singapore in the 1950s created this dish. Tham Yue Kai, Sin Leong, Hooi Kik Wai and Lau Yeok Pui tried to create a “gimmicky” dish to attract more business to their restaurant during the highly competitive Lunar New Year period.

There was no lack of seasonal dish designed to go on the table as celebration during Lunar New Year. Apart from the cakes, sweets, melon seeds and fried snacks, many traditional dishes started out with the name of the dish or ingredients having similar sound to auspicious terms and greetings. For instance, braised dried oysters with black moss with some vegetables – fat choy ho see – has always been considered an ideal dish to be served during this time, as the sound of the dish is similar to “prosperity and good business.” One does not need to read Chinese to notice “fat choy” is phonetically identical to part of the actual Chinese New Year greetings – kung hei fat choy!

These four ingenious chefs decided to create a dish, which has that exact quality. The term lo, is a verb meaning “mix,” and is also suggestive of prosperity. Hei means “rise,” “up” implying prosperity. Sang, meaning “raw,” suggests life or vitality. As a promotion, these four Singaporean marketing gurus created lo yu sang, literally meaning mixing raw fish, now more ingrained as lo hei, and has become another standard Lunar New Year greeting.

The secret of the dish’s instant success, as well as its enduring popularity, is the appeal to engage everyone around the table in a ceremonial tossing and mixing ritual. This signature dish was designed as a strategy to encourage more bookings at their restaurant, to attract more business from the traditional New Year meals where bosses and workers come together to enjoy a meal, with the hope of a prosperous year ahead. The recipe calls for a mountain of shredded vegetables topped with some thinly sliced raw fish to be tossed by the whole table using chopsticks, chanting popular New Year greetings at the same time, to demonstrate family togetherness during Chinese New Year.

Interestingly, marinated sliced raw fish – often wolf herring – is a popular ingredient used in Cantonese-style congee. Yu Sang Jook has been a fixture on the menu of many Cantonese restaurants all over the region. The fish is actually cooked in the boiling hot porridge, along with thinly sliced ginger and scallions.

This Singaporean dish has been immortalized and modernized over the years, with smoked salmon slices frequently used as substitute for the original raw fish slices. There are Japanese and Thai versions of the dish as well.

As someone who believes in maintaining the internal harmony for health, I personally love to serve and entertain with this dish, loaded with “cooling” vegetables. It will provide a great counterbalance to BBQ meat and other grilled items so frequently served as a backyard favorite. Moreover, how fun it is to engage all your chopsticks-welding guests for a joyful tossing and “toasting” session!

America is a place where we can get away with eating mooncakes year round, so nothing will prevent us from enjoying this dish outside the Lunar New Year period as well.

Yu Sang Jook
Courtesy of Sylvia Tan

6 ounces sliced smoked salmon (or sashimi grade raw fish, which can be sliced paper-thin)

2 carrots, finely shredded
2 small Chinese radish, finely shredded
1 cup of pomelo sacs or grapefruit sacs (seeds and membrane removed)

½ jar Yeo’s plum sauce
1 cup vegetable oil
Juice from 4 limes or to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ teaspoon five-spice powder

2 tablespoons picked ginger strips
2 tablespoons fresh ginger strips
4 picked leeks, finely shredded
1 tablespoon candied winter melon, finely chopped (optional)
1 tablespoon candied orange peel, finely chopped (optional)

4 red chilies, cut into strips
2 stalks Chinese celery (or cilantro), with leaves plucked and stems cut into short lengths
2 kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded
½ cup peanuts, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon white sesame seeds
1 cup fried wonton strips (or croutons)

Prepare the toppings, garnishes and dressing in advance. Basically everything needs to be shredded finely. Store separately in the fridge until use.

Place dressing ingredients in a large screw top jar and shake vigorously till combined. Store in fridge until needed. If using raw fish, keep in freezer until semi-frozen for easy slicing. Leave in fridge until ready to serve.

Using a shredder, shred peeled carrot and radish into thin strips. To assemble, place shredded vegetables on a very large plate (big enough for tossing without spilling), arranging the contrast colors for better presentation. Top with the picked and candied ingredients. Arrange fish slices on top.

Garnish with fresh chilies, herbs and crunchies. Bring to the table and hand out chopsticks to everyone. Pour dressing over dish just before everyone joins in the tossing of the salad. Serves 10.

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