Lo-hei! Lo-hei! Lo-hei!
Symbolizing well-wishes and yearnings for good blessings and good fortunes, yu sheng, or the prosperity toss, is a requisite at most auspicious Chinese dinner tables for its symbolism of a great year ahead, no matter what Chinese zodiac sign you fall under. Widely celebrated across most countries in Asia, especially in Singapore, Crystal Jade Dining IN along Bonifacio High Street brings the tradition to the Philippines, offering it as part of February’s special Chinese New Year set menus.
The Yu Sheng Tradition
The tradition of eating thinly sliced raw fish may seem like a Japanese tradition, but it actually originated in China where fishermen would feast on their catch on the seventh day of the Lunar New Year. This tradition is also followed at Crystal Jade Dining IN, taking on the yu sheng tradition that stems from Singapore, where in 1964 Master Chef Than Mui Khai created the modern yu sheng that Singaporeans (and now Filipinos) have come to love.
Looking at all the ingredients that go into the yu sheng, it can look rather overwhelming to a novice of the ancient tradition, such as myself. “All of that mixed together just can’t possibly taste good,” I found myself thinking.
The original yu sheng consisted of 27 ingredients that hold various auspicious meanings, including items like lime and pomelo for good luck and smooth sailing (大吉大利), pepper to attract more money and valuables (招财进宝), sesame oil circling the ingredients to symbolize wealth flowing in from all directions (财源广进), shredded carrots and red pickled ginger to bring good luck with their reddish hues (鸿运当头), shredded green radish and Chinese parsley for everlasting youth (青春常驻), while shredded white radish is also added is for progress at work (步步高升).
To add to all the fruit and vegetables chopped peanuts are dusted on, symbolizing a household filled with gold and silver (金银满屋), sesame seeds are scattered to welcome a flourishing and prosperous business (生意兴隆), deep fried flour crisps in the shape of little pillows is then added with wishes that the floor of your home be filled with gold (偏地黄金), five spice powder to hail in the arrival of the five fortunes (五福临门), and yu sheng sauce – usually a sweet plum sauce – is drizzled over everything to wish for a sweet life (甜甜蜜蜜). The only meat in the yung sheng are the raw slices of fish – in Crystal Jade’s case, salmon – that signifies abundance (年年有余).
After all the condiments are added to the platter, the guests at the table all stand up and proceed to toss the ingredients together with their chopsticks, either shouting their wishes for the new year or simply shouting, “Lo-hei!” over and over again. The belief is that the higher the toss, the higher the guests’ fortunes will become, so don’t be afraid to make a mess. I was blessed to have shared my prosperity toss platter with the owners and management of Crystal Jade Dining IN in the Philippines, so here’s to hoping I get some of their luck and prosperity this year!
Yu sheng, aside from being a fun tradition, is also a brilliant start to a multi-course dinner or lunch that puts guests in a merry disposition, snacking on their prosperity platter as they wait for their other dishes to be served.
Other Auspiciously Delicious Dishes
Ever since Crystal Jade Dining IN opened in Bonifacio Global City, it has been getting requests for the popular Xiao Long Bao that is usually served at the Crystal Jade Express branch in Greenhills. It looks like this year, the management of the popular establishment has finally given into the demand! You can now order your favorite soupy dumpling at the upscale BGC branch.
A top tip to not getting scalded by the hot soup? Wait for a minute or two after the basket is served, for the soup to cool and the outside of the dumpling to firm up slightly so once you bite off the top, the dumpling keeps it shape, with the broth staying inside. Legend has it that the more dumplings you eat during the New Year celebrations, the more money you can make in the New Year – so eat up!
I had been wondering what the yu sheng would actually taste like, and as it turns out, the tossing of all the ingredients made for a delicious outcome! It was sweet, slightly sour, and crispy all at the same time, with the creamy salmon pieces bringing everything together. I found myself picking out the little pillows of fried flour, as they had absorbed much of the flavor of the platter but still kept their crispiness. Not bad, at all.
As with any major Chinese celebration, Roasted Peking Duck is always a crowd pleaser, and so are the duck pancakes that are skillfully carved out from the oh-so-crispy duck skin. They say one duck pancake takes away five minutes of ones life because it’s so high in cholesterol, but I think it evens out with the noodle dish that’s usually served later on, promoting long life. Quits lang.
If you’re looking for something different and auspicious looking at the same time, ask for the Golden Sesame Balls Stuffed with Fresh Mushrooms. The traditional sweet buchi is given a savory twist, stuffed with sautéed shitaake mushrooms, the outside of the tasty appetizer rolled in sesame seeds and salted egg yolk. The salted egg yolk can get a bit cloying, so order this if you plan on sharing or taking the rest home – I could only manage to get through one.
A very auspicious-looking soup (read: soup most Caucasians wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole) at Crystal Jade Dining IN is the Double-boiled Fish with White Fungus and Papaya. Understandably, the name and the overall appearance of the starter doesn’t exactly evoke feelings of gustatory delight, but this was actually pretty good, with the tasty tilapia meat and chewy enoki mushrooms in a hot broth. Admittedly, the papaya did put me off – I’m used to eating it cold and sprinkled with a dash of sugar rather as opposed to warm and in soup.
A personal favorite of mine at Crystal Jade is their Crispy Prawn with Sliced Apple and Sweet and Sour Sauce. The plump prawns are deveined and quickly stir-fried in a light batter before being tossed in the sweet and sour sauce and served with slivered apples.
If one is looking for something a bit more colorful for your lunar celebration, the Sautéed Assorted Vegetable with Preserved Vegetable is always a god choice. Julienned carrots, eggplant, and mushrooms are tossed in with grilled asparagus and string beans in dark soy for more flavor.
For long life (and another use for the rest of the Peking roasted duck) ask your server for the Braised Noodles with Shredded Duck Meat & Mushroom. The incredibly rich and creamy noodle dish is quite heavy on the tummy, but I still managed to get a good portion down, getting tender and flavorful pieces of dark duck meat in practically every bite.
They say eating fish during Chinese New Year is lucky, as “fish” in Chinese also sounds like ‘surplus’. The Chinese always like to have a surplus at the end of the year, because they think if they have managed to save something by year’s end, they can make more in the next year. Steamed Live Garoupa with Olives is a light, healthy option to enjoy during the special holiday. The fish should be the last dish left with some left over, as this has auspicious homophonics for there being surpluses every year!
Serving desserts brings a sweet life in the new year, the Chinese like to say. Crystal Jade Dining IN offers a special treat of Japanese Glutinous Rice Dumpling with Mango & Cream. Much like mochi, but way better, taking a bite of this soft ball reveals the delicate mango creme inside that literally melts in your mouth.
Another Japanese favorite that’s been tweaked for the Chinese establishment is their Chilled Coffee Jelly. Layers of black coffee and café au lait are layered on top of one another to create a beautifully-patterned dessert.
If you’re thinking of ushering in the Chinese New Year with a prosperity toss for your business or with the family, consider celebrating the Year of the Goat at Crystal Jade Dining IN and ask about their yu sheng! It’ll be an auspicious way to ring in the new year and tons of fun for everybody participating in it as well. Lo-hei! Lo-hei! Lo-hei!
Crystal Jade Dining IN is located at Bonifacio High Street Central along 7th Avenue, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig and is open daily from 11am – 10pm . For inquiries or to make a reservation, please call +63 2 808 5233.